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A First-Class Welcome at New College

Cal State Channel Islands greets its inaugural crew of freshmen in what promises to be a year of change and growth.

August 25, 2003|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

Nearly four decades after community leaders set out to bring a four-year university to Ventura County, educators at Cal State Channel Islands welcomed their first freshman class Sunday to the sprawling campus near Camarillo.

On the eve of the first day of classes, amid a sea of students clad in red Channel Islands T-shirts, university officials took care to explain to the newcomers their place in the development of California's newest college campus.

"This is an historic moment," Channel Islands President Richard Rush told the new students, who were seated on a vast lawn where their commencement will be held four years from now.

While still a work in progress, the university opened last fall to upper-division students. This year, about 250 freshmen -- selected from more than 2,000 applicants -- are being added, on their way to becoming the Class of 2007.

"We are so delighted to see this first freshman class -- we've been waiting for you," said Ted Lucas, the university's interim vice president for academic affairs. "This university was built just for you."

Aside from the arrival of the historic freshman class, it promises to be another year of firsts for the emerging campus.

With classes starting today, university officials will unveil a new science building, a refurbished gymnasium and a state-of-the-art recreation center as part of a continuing push to expand services for the university's 2,300 full- and part-time students.

Eighteen new faculty members have joined the university, a group chosen from among 3,000 applicants for the coveted teaching slots. The new arrivals bring the number of faculty to 48.

Officials also will launch a range of new student programs, including one called the "First Year Experience," which will provide freshmen with mentors and other support services designed to ease their transition from high school to college.

During the school year, students will name the university's mascot and face a landmark vote to enact a $62-per-semester student association fee to support clubs, intramural sports and other campus activities.

"We all have such a great opportunity to make the university exactly what we want it to be," said senior Becca Glazier, a liberal studies major and the university's first student body president.

"We are encouraging students to get involved, don't just sit back and get an education," she added. "I think everyone is getting that message and they are getting excited about the year ahead."

Since the university's inaugural graduation ceremony last spring, things have remained busy at the 670-acre campus, set in a series of renovated, 1930s-era buildings at the former Camarillo State Hospital.

Construction crews have pushed ahead with work on a new student dormitory, a new wing for the administrative staff and the second phase of a 900-unit housing complex behind the campus designed to generate the money necessary to expand academic space.

Starting last month, students were added to the mix as the university's two-day orientation presentations got underway. The last of those sessions took place last week, with nearly two dozen freshmen -- some with parents in tow -- gathered in a lecture hall to register for classes, get their picture IDs and learn more about the upcoming school year.

Camarillo High School graduate Kristen Blickenstaff said she was struck by the beauty of the campus, telling her fellow freshmen that she had seen a deer on the outskirts of the college that morning.

"It seems like it's going to be a really good school," said the 18-year-old, who plans to live at home. "It just worked out really great."

At 16, freshman Kyle Ragsdale is likely the youngest of the new students. After starting school early and skipping a grade, he graduated in the spring from a small high school near Lake Arrowhead and learned about Channel Islands from his father, who did consulting work at the campus.

After a morning packed with information on parking passes, student identification cards and financial aid, he admitted that he was a bit overwhelmed. And that was before he set out to find an apartment in Ventura County's pricey housing market to avoid a three-hour commute from his hometown.

"I just thought it would be interesting to be part of the first freshman class," said Kyle, who plans to double major in computer science and environmental science. "It will be great to try something new."

The college preview was not just for students.

About a dozen parents attended the orientation, separated from their children but soaking up just as much information. Their day included a campus tour in which they ducked in and out of the sun-splashed, Spanish-style buildings that make up the campus core.

"This has been the best-kept secret in California," said Malibu resident Bob Gillespie, noting that his 18-year-old son, Robert, was hooked on Channel Islands after learning that it offered a course called the "Zen of Surfing."

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