Southern Oregon University freshman Chelsea Asbill, Shady Cove, unloads her empty boxes as she settles in the dorm for the fall quarter. - Bob Pennell

SOU takes new approach to new year

From the back of a gray Toyota Tundra pickup, Southern Oregon University freshman Mallory Wedding hands down boxes, bags and plastic crates to family members helping her tote her possessions into her single room in the Greensprings residence halls.

"You take that," she said, handing a plastic bag stuffed with bedding to her older brother Casey. "I'll take that," she said, pointing to a rolling suitcase with an electric fan balanced on top.

Dad David Wedding grabbed a duffel bag and a plastic bag stuffed with pillows and blankets. Mom Christine Wedding was already loaded up with a suitcase, printer and a rolled-up rug.

Mallory Wedding, 20, a budding theater student from Napa, Calif., was part of the mass of new students moving into SOU's residence halls Thursday. Classes at the campus start Monday. (See correction below.)

"I'm excited and nervous," she said.

But this fall, the freshmen — toting speakers and sports gear, luggage and laundry supplies — aren't the only ones on campus facing a big change with excitement and a bit of trepidation.

After deep budget cuts that trimmed roughly $4 million and aimed to make SOU sustainable, the university itself is embarking on something new.

This academic year is the first for a College of Arts and Sciences that replaces schools of Arts and Letters, Social Sciences and Sciences. It's also the launch of an enrollment services center that folds together admissions, financial aid, registrar and business services offices. (See correction below.)

The College of Arts and Sciences and the enrollment services center are both attempts to cut costs and offer high levels of service to students, officials said.

Work to eliminate jobs, consolidate filing systems and figure out how three previously independent schools could work together as one started last spring, and the new college officially came into existence July 1, said acting dean Josie Wilson.

She's still settling in at her new office in the computing services building.

"I'm not completely unpacked," Wilson said. "I still have three boxes."

Signs and directory information will help students keep track of the physical moves from one office to another so they can still find professors and advisers in their fields, she said. They probably won't even notice the administrative changes behind the scenes.

"Change is a little anxiety-provoking," Wilson said, but faculty teams are working out how to make the most of it.

"This will provide an opportunity to grow our interdisciplinary efforts," she said.

Already a computer science professor who has developed a program to preserve and teach indigenous languages is looking for ways to collaborate with the foreign languages department, Wilson said. The new school is batting around ideas for a showcase that would present lectures by researchers, musical performances and art displays.

"I'm really hopeful about where we're going as a university," she said.

Jonathan Eldridge, vice president for student affairs, has high hopes for SOU's new student services efforts in Britt Hall, too.

The enrollment services center, which opened Monday and will have a grand opening with the chancellor in attendance next week, will increase efficiency for employees and students, he said.

"Now they can go to one location and get everything they need," Eldridge said of students. "They will spend less time trying to access services and more time on academics."

He also noted that improvements in recruiting have helped link this incoming class with professors from their first college visit so new students will have a better idea of what to expect from college and what is expected of them on campus.

"We've done four years' worth of changes in the past nine months," Eldridge said. "I'm confident that students will be better prepared to succeed and that we are better prepared to help them do that."

Shane Tomich, 18, of Eagle Point, appreciates the efforts to boost enrollment. He admits his high school grades were a little lackluster, but SOU still welcomed him.

"Everybody's been really helpful," he said, as he helped fellow freshman Chelsea Asbill, also 18, of Shady Cove, move into her dorm room.

Chelsey Williams, a freshman from Grants Pass who headed to SOU to study criminology, also approved of how the university had dealt with tough financial times.

"I like the changes. They took the opportunity to make improvements," she said, hiking across a parking lot with her arms wrapped around a cardboard box of belongings and her parents, lugging their own loads, trailing behind her.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

Correction: The original version of this story listed the incorrect day for the start of classes and the wrong name for the new College of Arts and Sciences. The version appearing now has been corrected.

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