Newest students move to Rice

The weather was far from frosty Aug. 18, but that didn’t stop Rice President David Leebron from drawing comparisons between the winter holidays and Rice’s Move-In Day celebration, where incoming students received the warmest of welcomes into the Rice community.

A Will Rice O-Week volunteer helps new freshman Sharon Ghelman move in on campus.

“It’s better than Christmas – it’s the most exciting day of the year,” Leebron said. “The current students are so excited to welcome [the new ones]. It’s such an extraordinary group of people.”

Move-in Day marked the beginning of O-Week, the weeklong orientation program designed to familiarize incoming first-year, transfer and foreign exchange students with their new campus, residential colleges and classmates. Across campus, cheers and laughter filled the air as O-Week volunteers rushed to arriving cars to greet the students by chanting their names and helping unload their belongings.

“I don’t think anyone else does this better than we do, and it’s really because of the attitude the upperclassmen take and the dedication they put into this,” Leebron said. “They’re so excited about welcoming the next group of students. It’s like they’re welcoming a younger brother or sister.”

Across campus, members of the Rice football team joined O-Week volunteers in welcoming the freshmen and their families. Together they helped move the new students’ belongings into the residential colleges to give the families a chance to say “goodbye” to their children.

“We have a good time doing it,” said David Bailiff, head coach for the Rice Owls football team. “When you pull up with four or five of your football players with you and watch [the students’] faces, it’s a lot of fun and it also surprises [the parents].”

“We’ve been working all summer to put together our team and get things organized for these new students so that they’ll be able to thrive,” said Megan Davenport, an O-Week coordinator at Lovett College. “Seeing all the new faces and seeing our advising team so excited is amazing.”

Allison Burns, a new McMurtry College freshman from Memphis, was one of the new students enjoying the warm welcome to campus.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “It makes me feel very loved; it’s very personal.”

Burns said she chose Rice because “it’s the best university in the United States!” She joined her older brother, Daniel, on campus and called Rice “our family school,” as both of her parents and her grandparents attended Rice as well.

“We’re a very proud family, to have two of our four kids here,” said Burns’ mother, Catherine. She said the family visits campus regularly and claimed that is one reason her daughter wanted to be part of McMurtry College.

“[Her brother] fully initiated her to [the college] and the traditions, so she knew she wanted to be a ‘Murt.’”

Another set of parents, Rick and Kelly Smith of Phoenix, called the move-in experience “unbelievable” and said they know Rice “is absolutely the right place” for their daughter Riley for the next four years.

“She saw a lot of schools in a lot of parts of the country,” Kelly said. “Once she saw Rice, there was no other school for her.”

Jason Petro, a Duncan College freshman from Connecticut, called the move-in experience “a lot more than I expected.” Having grown up on the East Coast, Petro said he always wanted to go to college somewhere that had a great academic reputation – and warm temperatures.

“Rice had everything I was looking for,” he said.

Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said the level of excitement among the students “seems to go up every year.”

“We’ve had an extraordinarily smooth move-in period,” said Hutchinson, who spent Sunday morning visiting with the parents and new students. “They seem so appreciative of all the work that has been done to make it such a smooth day. And it’s nice to see how quickly our new students begin to understand that they’re going to be the happiest students in the country.”

Sharon Ghelman, a Will Rice freshman from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., said the Princeton Review rankings touting Rice’s great quality of life and happy students definitely impacted her decision to attend the university.

“Coming to campus and seeing this for myself is what really attracted me to Rice,” she said. “I knew I had to be here.”

Ghelman admitted that she’s going to miss home, but knows that Rice is the right place for her. “I know I already love it here,” she said. “I’ve visited several times, and it’s meant to be my new home.”

James Carter, a Brown College freshman from Austin, Texas, said that initially he wasn’t sure where he wanted to go to college, but he had visited Rice as a high school student and “loved it.” He called the move-in experience “slightly overwhelming, but a good overwhelming.” He added, “There’s a lot of energy and a lot of excitement.”

His parents, James and Teresa Carter, shared his excitement and a bit of nervousness while preparing to send their son off on his new journey.

“I tell him all the time that we’re very proud.” Teresa said. “I know he’s going to do big things here.”

Over at Duncan College, Grant George was enjoying mingling with his new classmates after a long journey of his own — all the way from his home state of Alaska. He admitted that Houston was a “bit of a culture shock” and “a lot warmer.”

“It’s a lot different, with everything happening in the city,” he said. “It’s just a different experience.”

George said that the biggest attraction at Rice was its architecture program, which he called “one of the best programs in the world.”

Hutchinson credited the O-Week volunteers with the success of Move-In Day and said the new students “are going to be really pleased” to be at Rice.

“They picked the right place,” he said.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.