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Move-in day at COCC's Wickiup Hall in 2017. 

Balancing a mini-fridge on your shoulder is an art form. And Joshua Garrett, a stocky-looking member of Central Oregon Community College’s (COCC) rugby team, has downright perfected it. “Twenty fridges so far,” he said, almost disappointed in his tally, admitting that it’s down from 29 last year. Then he brightens, spying another one, and quickly strides off. “I’m going for 21!”

Move-in day at COCC’s Wickiup Residence Hall on the Bend campus is at first glance like the scene at a busy airport — but with a lively vibe and a 20-person rugby team volunteering to help you haul your luggage. As cars unload and students and their parents try to make sense of the situation, they find a small army of friendly, green-shirted COCC staff fanned out — greeters, directors and movers — helping things flow, keeping the beat.

The song “Walking on Sunshine” booms from an oversized speaker, defying the cloudy September conditions. Balloon clusters bob like spectators. Students, parents and their newfound helpers pour in and out of the building with armloads of stuff: skateboards, chessboards, keyboards. The energy in the air is a mix of newfound freedom, newly sparked friendships and, of course, plenty of questions. But these students are fully aware — from day one — that their college has their back.

That was the scene several years ago, before the pandemic necessitated a closure of Wickiup Hall. But the lively vibe will return once again this fall, as COCC plans to reopen its contemporary residence hall — part of the college’s larger reopening blueprint for fall term — with applications already streaming in for the 320-capacity building.

“As of today, we’ve received 243 applications, with 93 of those finalized and set for fall housing,” shared Andrew Davis, director of student and campus life. “We’ve never had this many completed and accepted applications for Wickiup this early in the year. It’s an indication that our students are excited to get back to campus life…and we can’t wait to welcome them back.”

Wickiup Hall, which opened in 2015, has served as home to students from as far away as Hawaii and Florida — with nearly 30% of current applications coming from out-of-state students. The building is centrally located on the campus, combining convenience and comfortable rooms with a built-in sense of community, a shared kitchen, free parking and a host of student support services, along with some incredibly scenic views from its perch on Awbrey Butte.

“The residence hall offers many wonderful opportunities for our students,” said Melissa Merryman, assistant director of housing and residence life. “Students mention how they create lifelong friendships and how they appreciate the ease of access and proximity to their classes and on-campus resources.” The library, gym, tennis courts and student center are just steps away.

In the past, a three-credit “College Success” class, which helps students hone study skills and general life-balance strategies, such as time management and financial planning, has met in a residence hall conference room — an extra convenience for Wickiup residents.

Studies that have looked at college retention rates draw this in their conclusions: Students who live on campus achieve higher GPAs and hold better graduation rates than those who don’t. It’s like having firmer footing on a challenging trail.

The residence hall is comprised of single- and double-bedroom “semi-suite” rooms, which feature small living areas and shared bathrooms. Take a Wickiup Hall virtual tour online. Rates for an entire term, including a meal plan, start at $3,853. A limited number of students can earn free room and board by applying to be a community assistant, a peer-leader position that helps facilitate student activities and programs.

When the residence hall reopens, the college will closely follow all appropriate Oregon Health Authority COVID-19 safety guidelines, and will prioritize students’ health and well-being. Fall move-in for Wickiup Hall is set for Sept. 16. Just like usual, there will be a full platoon of staff helpers on hand to welcome new Bobcats as they acclimate to college life. Even the mini-fridges will find a welcoming committee.

For now, in-person learning for COCC’s summer term is scheduled to remain limited, with the intention of gradually expanding on-campus classes for fall and subsequent terms. The college is currently offering tours to prospective students and their families (one household per tour, with masks required).

For more information on Wickiup Hall, visit cocc.edu/departments/residence-life or call 541-383-7545.