Rico Herrera decided to spend his first year at The University of Texas-Pan American living in its Unity Hall dormitory rather than commuting from his family's home in Harlingen.
"It's a lot easier and it's less expensive than living at home and driving to school," said Herrera, 18.
Herrera, who chose UTPA in part because of its pre-med program, said he wants to receive the full college experience: living away from home and meeting new people.
"And studying," his mother, Velinda Herrera, reminded him.
Rico Herrera is one of about 800 students who moved into their homes away from home Aug. 27 and 28 during UTPA's annual Bronc Move In. And like Herrera, many are first-time dorm residents.
University administration, faculty, staff and current students made up the 125 volunteers who helped make the transition easier for newcomers.
Velinda Herrera said she first had some reservations about her son living so far from home. But after visiting the campus and meeting with University representatives, she now feels at ease.
"He'll be fine," Velinda Herrera said about her son. "He needs to go out and see the world."
Parents and students filed into residence halls, picking up keys, finding rooms and meeting roommates. The number of students living in residence halls has increased from the past. About 350 students are returning residents while more than 450 students are entering freshmen, making it a 10-15 percent increase of new students, said Eric Booth, director of Residence Life.
Unity Hall and Heritage Hall are filled to capacity, making it necessary to open Troxel Hall to make room for students. In recent years, Troxel Hall has been used to house individuals participating in summer camps on campus.
"This is really exciting, we have never been in such a situation where we've seen such a huge growth in such a small amount of time," Booth said. "It shows that the interest of living on campus is there and hopefully we can keep increasing the amount of interests and keep filling up Troxel Hall."
Bronc Move In is an annual tradition in which the UTPA community comes together to help students and parents make the move from home to a campus dorm. Dr. Calvin Phillips, associate vice president for enrollment and student services and dean of students, and Dr. John Edwards, vice president for Enrollment and Student Services, were among the many administration, faculty, staff and student organizations who unloaded cars and carried boxes, crates and rolled shopping carts filled with clothes and living essentials into dorm rooms. Booth said it is important to display this type of unity.
"What this volunteerism shows is that administration and faculty are very engaged in student's lives," Booth said. "We're very fortunate to have a big group of people who is dedicated to volunteering. It shows a care for students and for making first good impressions, but most importantly, it lets students know that everyone is here for them and values their college experience."
Students feel appreciative and parents feel better leaving their son or daughter at UTPA, knowing that it's a good place where everyone cares, said Booth.
There are many advantages about living on campus, Booth said. Students have university resources and social opportunities readily available to them, and they don't have to worry about transportation and traffic, he said.
"Students on campus have accessibility to so much, some of the things you can't even put a price on," Booth said. "For a lot of them this is also their first time away from home, so this is a safe way to learn independence."
Parents can also have peace of mind knowing that their son or daughter is in a safe environment.
Residence halls are equipped with 24-hour front desk coverage, resident assistants who are on call and available all day and a professional staff member on call 24-hours. Security is enforced through the UTPA police department, camera systems and a swipe card system.
In addition to the security services already offered, under a new Texas law, students living on campus are required to get the meningitis vaccination 10 days before moving into residence halls.
"This is a big safety precaution and was implemented because of a student who contracted the disease at a Texas university," Booth said. "So this is a measure based on something that happened before. The possibility is there and it could happen to anybody, so this is the step we take to keep our students safe."
Shots are available at Texas Department of Health locations and at UTPA's Student Health Services.