Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas, president of The University of Texas-Pan American, along with staff and administrators rolled out the welcome mat for new students arriving at the UTPA dormitories Aug. 22-25.
Cárdenas, who attended her first meet-and-greet at the dorms, felt it was important to be available to students and parents during their big move into University life.
She chatted and joked with parents and new students and told one incoming freshman, "I've already got all the rules from your mom!"
Cárdenas hoped her presence would encourage students to succeed academically and also aid in student retention at the University. Her advice for new students was clear.
"Find one thing to get involved in, whether it's a music group or a theater group, a political organization, or a fraternity or sorority," Cárdenas said. "Get hooked on making A's too."
For the second year in a row, Bronc Village and the UTPA dorms - Troxel Hall and the Women's Residence Hall - are filled to capacity with 592 students.
When Chad Martin began as director of Residence Life almost 18 months ago, the residence hall was at 60 percent capacity. Today that number has increased to 100 percent capacity, with students on a waiting list, said Martin.
The residence halls currently have a 74 percent retention rate for residents, compared to the national average of 65 percent. With such a high retention rate, there is only limited room for incoming freshmen Martin said.
Opinions about the staff, dorms and reasons for choosing UTPA varied among new students. Juan Valadez, an entering freshman from Tulsa, Okla., felt the dorm accommodations were adequate.
"It's no suite, but it's OK," Valadez said. "All I need is a bed."
Crystal Villafuerte, a freshman psychology major from Los Fresnos, Texas chose to come to the University because of its close proximity to home.
Tynesha Pierce, a freshman who is attending UT Pan American on a basketball scholarship, said she decided to attend UTPA because of its top-rated engineering program.
Carolyn Pierce, Tynesha's mother, said she has had a wonderful experience with the campus and moving her daughter into the residence hall.
"I feel very comfortable with her living in a dorm," Pierce's mother said. "The hospitality of everyone here has been through the roof."
Martin estimated 150 volunteers helped over the four-day period to move students into the dorms. Several campus organizations including the volleyball and basketball teams came out to volunteer their time and labor. Caroline Marcengo, sophomore and a member of the women's volleyball team, came with her teammates to help.
"We've been there and we know how hard it is," Marcengo, who is originally from Curitiba, Brazil, said.
The Residence Life staff was present to answer questions, greet students and unload carts full of clothes, luggage and equipment. Martin said the support from the residence staff has been tremendous.
"The staff members were actually willing to share rooms with upperclassmen to allow more students to live in the dorms," Martin said. "They are willing to do that because they see the future and enjoy what they're doing."
"We want to show how important we think the students are," said Dr. John Edwards, vice president for Enrollment and Student Services.
Edwards said there are many advantages of living on campus. Students who live in the residence halls have access to events in the evenings that most commuter students do not participate in, he said.
"Residence halls promote diversity," Edwards said. "Students are exposed to others that they would have never met."
Martin pointed out other advantages to living on campus.
"We conducted a study that showed 84 percent of students who left the residence hall after living there at least a year remained enrolled at UTPA."
Not only are students more likely to stay enrolled, but they are also more likely to finish college, he said.
"Once students get connected to the campus through student life, they are more likely to graduate," said Christine Carruthers, assistant director of Student Life and Transition Services.
For the second year in a row, Residence Life staff welcomed the University's new students with "Survivor II" - an afternoon of fun, games and an opportunity to interact with dorm and Bronc Village residents held Aug. 24.
"This event serves as an ice-breaker, so our residents can meet each other and become more comfortable with fellow residents," Carruthers said.