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Move-in day: Nervous, excited EWU students crave ‘fresh start’ as classes begin next week

Sept. 16, 2022 Updated Fri., Sept. 16, 2022 at 10:10 p.m.

Music education major, Whitney Bertholic, left, laughs as her best friend Amy Johnson, center, and her boyfriend Spencer Littrel, right, pack into an elevator with all Bertholic’s belongings as they work to move her into EWU’s Pearce Hall on Friday in Cheney.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Music education major, Whitney Bertholic, left, laughs as her best friend Amy Johnson, center, and her boyfriend Spencer Littrel, right, pack into an elevator with all Bertholic’s belongings as they work to move her into EWU’s Pearce Hall on Friday in Cheney. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

More than 1,200 nervous and excited Eastern Washington University students settled into residence halls at the Cheney campus Thursday and Friday, ready for “the next adventure” in their lives.

Students traveled from near and far – some with their families and others by themselves – to the university. With the help of about 150 “Movers and Shakers,” or students, faculty, staff and other volunteers, they carried and rolled their belongings in large red carts to their rooms.

Student volunteer Jesus Mejia, left, helps Richard Humison, right, unload a mini-fridge outside EWU’s Pearce Hall as Humison works to move his daughter, Karson, into her dorm room on Friday in Cheney.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Student volunteer Jesus Mejia, left, helps Richard Humison, right, unload a mini-fridge outside EWU’s Pearce Hall as Humison works to move his daughter, Karson, into her dorm room on Friday in Cheney. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

There were 1,238 students who moved in Thursday and Friday, up from 955 students last fall, according to EWU spokesman Dave Meany.

Freshman Rafael Delgado Labra moved into Pearce Hall Friday after making the 2½-hour drive with his parents from Grandview, Washington.

“This is my first time being without my family,” Delgado Labra said.

He said he is the first person in his family to go to college and will try to prove he can get a degree, in either finance or engineering.

Delgado Labra said he’s looking forward to meeting new people from different backgrounds.

“I’m ready for the next adventure,” Delgado Labra said.

Joe Bailey, a junior finance student from Asotin, Washington, was one of the many students helping others move into their dorms.

“I remember when I came up here, it was nerve-wracking being a new student, especially if you don’t know anybody,” said Bailey, which is why he helped students move in Friday.

While students like Delgado Labra saw their living quarters and met their roommates for the first time, others, like junior Whitney Bertholic, will be able to enjoy their digs alone.

Bertholic attended Mt. Spokane High School, Spokane Falls Community College and Whitworth University before transferring to Eastern, her favorite of the three colleges, last year.

Music education major, Whitney Bertholic, carries her belongings out of an elevator with all Bertholic’s belongings as they work to move her into EWU’s Pearce Hall on Friday, Sept. 16,  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Music education major, Whitney Bertholic, carries her belongings out of an elevator with all Bertholic’s belongings as they work to move her into EWU’s Pearce Hall on Friday, Sept. 16, (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

It only took two trips to move her things into Pearce Hall, located across the street from Roos Field. Student volunteers helped move her “big, heavy stuff” on the first load and her “little, annoying stuff” on the second trip.

“It’s really nice to have them,” Bertholic said of the volunteers.

She said everybody at the university was welcoming, including first-year President Shari McMahan, who Bertholic met Friday. Bertholic said she was stressed about moving in, but the process turned out to be “really easy.”

Bertholic lived at Pearce Hall last year with a “fantastic” roommate, but she said she is looking forward to her own space, as well as new friends and experiences this year.

“I’m eager to obviously meet new people and just kind of see what dorm life is going to be like this year,” she said.

Music education major, Whitney Bertholic, center, inspects her belongings as she moves into her new dorm room in EWU’s Pearce Hall with student volunteer, Fidel Gutierrez, left, and her boyfriend Spencer Littrel, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 in Cheney, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Music education major, Whitney Bertholic, center, inspects her belongings as she moves into her new dorm room in EWU’s Pearce Hall with student volunteer, Fidel Gutierrez, left, and her boyfriend Spencer Littrel, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 in Cheney, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

She said she planned to spend the rest of the day unpacking, grabbing food from the Pence Union Building and perhaps taking a walk through campus for fresh air.

Bertholic said she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music education, then a master’s in teaching before becoming a choir teacher for middle school or high school students.

“I’m also really excited just to get closer towards my degree … I’ve got a plan in my mind and I’m just steadily working towards it,” she said.

Freshman Jair Gastlum drove 2½ hours by himself from Wenatchee to EWU. Volunteers helped him move his items into a dorm room at snyamncut, which is the school’s newest residence hall, opening in 2013.

Gastlum, a potential dental student, was also excited to meet students.

“I know a couple people coming here, but I want a fresh start,” he said.

EWU, like many universities, has experienced dips in enrollment in recent years.

One of McMahan’s priorities as president will be to help the university rebound from the lowest fall semester enrollment levels recorded in the school’s recent history.

Last fall, 10,892 students enrolled at the school, the lowest for the fall since at least 2009, according to the earliest available data from the university’s Office of Institutional Research. The enrollment headcount was 12,350 in 2020 and 12,326 in 2019.

“We’re kind of holding steady from the dip we’ve seen,” Meany said.

Meany said the university won’t have official fall enrollment numbers for a couple weeks, but that university officials hope to hit the 10,000-student mark.

He estimated the freshman class will be about 6% larger than last year’s class, which was about 1,300 students. He hopes that number is closer to 1,400 this fall.

“The freshman numbers are encouraging,” Meany said.

He said it appeared the number of transfer students this fall will be lower than officials hoped.

“Transfers have been an issue during the pandemic,” Meany said.

Meanwhile, Meany said it was nice to see smiling faces Thursday and Friday. Students and staff wore face masks when they greeted each other last fall.

“We’re just kind of excited to start the year under as normal circumstances as we’ve had really since this all started,” Meany said.

Masks are not required on campus, but students must be vaccinated unless they have an approved exemption.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week that the state’s 10 remaining COVID-19 emergency orders will be lifted by Oct. 31. Meany said university officials are figuring out how those soon-to-be lifted orders affects higher education institutions.

In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, Meany said one of Eastern’s empty residence halls likely will be used to isolate infected on-campus students.

“I think we feel confident that we’ve managed through it this far, so if there is an outbreak or if there is a situation … we would work with our public health experts and take the right steps that we had to,” he said.

Classes start Wednesday.

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