North Idaho College welcomes studious throng

Though it was the start of the fall semester at North Idaho College, the burst of late August sunshine attracted hundreds to the school’s annual Day of Welcome on Wednesday.

Students of all ages, energized by free food, drinks, T-shirts and potential prizes, amassed under the sweltering midday sun for the seventh annual event, a greeting to new and returning students and staff members for the semester.

Bars of sunlight poured through the tall pines as students queued up for the T-shirts that were handed out to the first 600 students. People conversed on the open grounds of the Fort Sherman Park on the western edge of campus, scanning the informational booths, playing tug-of-war on an Outdoor Pursuits raft and tossing pingpong balls into cups to earn raffle tickets for prizes.

The Day of Welcome, sponsored by Mountain West Bank, gives NIC faculty and staff an opportunity to say hello to new and returning students away from the confines of the classroom, said Alex Harris, associate dean of students and event coordinator.

“It’s just a way to welcome all students to campus,” said Harris while taking a break from emceeing the festivities. “It’s a great way for staff to get to know the students. Our employees really, really enjoy this.”

Standing next to the Outdoor Pursuits booth, Jon Totten, coordinator of the outdoor program, said the day is always a hit. “It’s fun. It’s kind of a festival mentality, and everyone’s excited to be back on campus or here for the first time.”

With free items dished out throughout the two-hour event, students are bound to show up, Harris added. “Any time you give away free stuff – free T-shirts, free food – students are interested,” he said.

As the campus springs back to life in the fall semester, NIC releases its annual Report to the Community, an overview of the college in facts, photos and stories.

NIC posted an increase in enrollment for fall 2009 of 803 students (about 17 percent) from the previous year’s enrollment of 4,856, bringing the total at this time last year to a record 5,659.

Meanwhile, the work force training center had 7,895 students enrolled for noncredit last fall. Nearly 90 percent of students were from Idaho, with 66 percent from Kootenai County and roughly 38 percent (2,141 students) either 19 years of age or younger.

Known for attracting a large segment of nontraditional students, the school continued that trend, with the 20 to 24 age bracket accounting for about a quarter of the student body, while the 25 to 39 age bracket made up another quarter. The 40-and-over category accounted for roughly 16 percent of the student body.

Figures for the fall 2010 semester won’t be available until the second week of classes. So far it looks as though NIC is on track for another record semester, said public information coordinator Tom Greene.

“Our preliminary figures for fall show that we are up 12 percent, but we won’t release detailed enrollment figures until the 10th day of enrollment,” Greene said.

Brandon Clearwaters, a 20-year-old Post Falls native in the computer informational technology program, added his name to the drawing to win an iPod from the Mountain West Bank booth. Now in his second semester at NIC, Clearwaters said he chose the school because of its location and cost compared to other campuses.

“I looked into other colleges but this one was the closest. So far it’s worked great. The teachers are willing to work with you and everyone’s friendly,” he said.

As fellow freshman Levi Turcott, 21, grabbed a free sandwich he said he enrolled because he was tired of working in the unsteady construction field. And with an 18-month-old baby to support, the college appealed to him “because I live here and it’s close by, it has lots of good programs, and it’s cheap,” he said. “I decided I didn’t want bang nails the rest of my life. I have a kid so I wanted to make a better life for him and for me.”

The community college also offers dual enrollment for area teenagers, which is what brought 17-year-old Jordan Haines. A senior at Coeur d’Alene High School, Haines, a general studies student at NIC, said taking a few college classes while he’s in high school will pay off in the long term. “If I decide to go to college, it gives me the option of going to a more prestigious school later on – my credits will transfer and it will help in applying,” he said. About the Day of Welcome, he added, “free food is always good.”

Doug Van Doren represented one of the thousands of older professionals who have embarked on a new career path through the community college. Van Doren, a 50-year-old Iraq war veteran, enrolled in NIC’s welding program. With three days of class under his belt, he said so far he’s enjoying his new surroundings.

“I like the location, and for the most part everybody’s pretty polite,” Van Doren said. “It’s great. I haven’t had an unpleasant experience so far, except for the parking. But I guess that’s the same at every college.”

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