Paola Benitez-Hernandez, right, laughs while talking with Pam Fountain and Alison Reeger-Cook. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Students travel from near and far to move onto campus for new school year

Aug 22, 2018
Kristen Bowman

Brenau University’s Gainesville campus was a little livelier on Wednesday, Aug. 22, as new and returning day students moved into dormitories and sorority houses for the start of the new school year.

Some students, like Paola Benitez-Hernandez, a biology major from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, traveled far to call Brenau their new home. She found out about Brenau through a program called “Bright Stars” through the Kinesis Foundation in Puerto Rico. The program includes several American universities that recruit students and offer tutoring, certification and preparation for college.

“What attracted me to Brenau was how welcoming it is,” Benitez-Hernandez said. “It’s a home away from home. Everyone is so kind and approachable. It sparked a big difference from other universities that took the longest time to reply to me. The week after I applied to Brenau they accepted me. They gave me a scholarship, they let me know what I was eligible for, what I could do, they welcomed me with a warm hug. It was amazing.”

Puerto Rico is still recovering from the effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria last September — many are still without electricity, water and phone services — so the opportunity for Benitez-Hernandez to attend college in the U.S. is significant.

Hannah Brown poses with Brenau spirited car
Hannah Brown poses with Brenau spirited car. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Hannah Brown, a freshman psychology major, drove five hours to move into her dorm room in West Hall.

“I’m from St. Simons Island,” she said. “I came here in 2015 on a drama trip and just fell in love with this campus. I said to myself, ‘I have got to go here.’”

Her roommate, health science major Ashley Sciandra, had a much shorter commute.

“We drove 15 minutes,” said the Gainesville native. “My grandparents are a whole 20 minutes away.”

No matter their distance from home, West Hall resident assistant T’Yanah Crowley said she knows what these new students are going through.

Sailor Bell, center, poses with Danita Jackson, left, and Crystal Khalil during check in.
Sailor Bell, center, poses with Danita Jackson, left, and Crystal Khalil during check in. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

“I’m a sophomore,” Crowley said. “So I know what a great experience this is going to be for them. It’s a new chapter in their life. For me personally, move-in day was an eye-opening moment, seeing all the girls and knowing we’re going to experience all of this together. My RA really influenced a feeling of community, and I want them to have and feel that support for each other on the hall.”

Resident assistant Dejah Williams said it is the responsibility of RAs on move-in day to ensure students are comfortable and “not too nervous” heading into the school year.

Junior Daniela Santiago was a resident assistant last school year in Crudup Hall, but this year is the RA for the Delta Delta Delta house. “Now living in the house, I already have such a stronger connection with my sorority sisters,” she said. “Being an RA last year has given me a kind of love and support as a student leader from this perspective that I’m looking forward to extending as a sorority sister.”

Members of the Brenau soccer team help new students move into their rooms in Crudup Hall.
Members of the Brenau soccer team help new students move into their rooms in Crudup Hall. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Zoie Gardner, a biology major, was recruited to Brenau’s cross country team after running on the Lanier High School team for four years. She decided she wanted to keep up her running career in college and picked a major that fits in well with her athletic pursuits.

“Brenau was one of my top choices. I love the cross-country coach and atmosphere of the campus,” she said. “I’m looking forward to meeting new people and getting into the environment and the team, and having a lot of fun.”

Students who have already experienced move-in day in years past were on hand to help the newcomers feel at home. Sylvia Thrower, a middle-grades education sophomore, greeted students and families as they entered the Northeast Georgia History Center for check-in. She still remembers her freshman move-in day fondly.

Starr Hart, left, and Clara Woodfield share a laugh while setting up their room.
Starr Hart, left, and Clara Woodfield share a laugh while setting up their room. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

“I remember being so nervous when I first walked in, but then everyone was so welcoming and smiling, and it made me feel more confident to be here,” she said. “But the roles have changed, and now I’m the guide and welcoming people in. I’m trying to make them more comfortable so they won’t be nervous the way I first was.”

Move-in day also included helpful orientation programming for both students and parents. After a lunch break, parents attended an information session in Pearce Auditorium, and new students took part in an opening ceremony ritual with welcome remarks from Brenau President Ed Schrader.

“Do seriously consider the opportunities you have ahead of you the next four years,” Schrader said to the freshman class. “Take some of this time to do some of the things that you may not ever have the chance to do again. Life has this crazy way of catching you, pulling you into a current and pushing you along, until suddenly you say, ‘I wish I had done that.’ Your life will never be the same because you came to Brenau, and we hope and believe that will be a positive thing for you.”

Monday, Aug. 27, marks the first day of class for Brenau, which, as a private institution, starts a week later than nearby state schools. As of Wednesday, total current enrollment for the fall semester across all Brenau campuses was 2,667, 800 of whom are Gainesville day students. Enrollment numbers will increase as new- and continuing-student registration goes until the end of drop/add week on Aug. 31.