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New students arriving at Gonzaga

College students came streaming back into Spokane on Friday, moving into dorms at Gonzaga University and getting ready for the big show the school puts on for newcomers.

A student version of “The Dating Game” called Snag-A-Zag. A boat cruise. Improv comedy. Barbecues and rafting. The school even asked incoming students to read “Into Thin Air,” an account of climbing Mount Everest, to prepare them for the theme of orientation – Base Camp 2006.

If your memories of college check-in involve standing in lines and sitting in meetings, it might not sound familiar.

“Dude, we are so not about that,” said Kevin Brockett, publicity manager for the Gonzaga Student Body Association. He was standing in front of the Crosby Student Center, holding a large cardboard question mark and helping new students find their way. “We are so rock and roll.”

Gonzaga has had a creative approach to freshmen orientation for years, students and officials say. It’s something that’s catching on at other schools around the country, as university officials strive to make new students feel less daunted and more at home.

A story at the college Web site Inside Higher Ed this week reported that universities are ramping up the use of games, pop culture and entertainment during orientation – and moving away from what one official called “a parade of talking heads.”

Friday was move-in day for GU freshmen, and orientation continues through the weekend until the start of classes Tuesday.

Sarah Rotar, 18, of Missoula, was settling into her new dorm room Friday afternoon with the help of her parents, Mark and Wanda. Between Sarah and her roommate, they’d figured out the network of appliances that constitute the well-appointed dorm room – a docking iPod player, computers, microwave and fridge.

“I don’t know what we’re doing about a TV yet,” she said.

Mark Rotar is a GU grad himself, and he remembers his own orientation from years ago. “They’re a lot more elaborate than when I came here,” he said.

GU expects a freshman class of roughly 970 students, with an overall undergraduate enrollment of 4,100 – a figure that’s been more or less stable for several years. Another 2,300 grad students attend Gonzaga.

“We’re really at a place where we’re not trying to grow our undergraduate enrollment,” said Dale Goodwin, GU spokesman. “We’re right there where we want to be.”

Students returning to campus this year will have a few reminders of last year. The student body association has memorialized three GU students who died last year, said Ben Folger, student body president.

“It was something we wanted to do because it impacted the Gonzaga community so much,” he said.

A new bench was dedicated to Eva Khallaf, a former resident assistant and 2005 grad who died in a car wreck last September, and a golf tournament has been started in memory of Matt Madison, a student who died after a fall from a cliff at the famed St. Andrews golf course in Scotland. The student body association will also be handing out cards that pull together a lot of information on emergency resources, in memory of Ann Komadina, who died from complications during emergency surgery.

University officials had hoped to open a new apartment complex this fall, but it was destroyed by an arson fire in March that remains unsolved. Goodwin said work on the Kennedy Apartments, which are expected to house 225 students, is proceeding and they should be ready for occupancy when school’s out in May.

Though some of this year’s events at orientation are new – such as Friday night’s dating game – at least one thing hasn’t changed. Sarah Rotar said she’d already purchased her ticket for the Lake Coeur d’Alene cruise Sunday night, an annual GU tradition. Her father remembered doing the same thing when he showed up as a freshman, a testament to the staying power of a fun orientation.

“I remember the boat ride,” he said. “It was done then, too. It rained all day.”

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