Columbia residents Dylan Anderson and Aaron Carr joined nearly 300 other freshmen at USC Aiken on Saturday moving into Pacer Commons – the residence hall aimed at first-year students.

“I’ve only been here two hours, and I love it already,” said Carr.

Pacers Downs was the first residence hall to open at the university in 1984, when they still were called dorms. Pacer Commons didn’t arrive until 2004, and Pacer Crossings followed four years later.

The on-campus student population has increased to about 900 students, about 30 percent of the total enrollment. A wide range of activities have grown, as well.

Now in her second year at USCA, Hope Smith-Duncan serves as the associate director for student houses. Previously, she was employed at Towson University in Maryland – a college seven times the size of USCA.

“I really enjoy the smaller institution,” Smith-Dunbar said “I like seeing the new first-year students.”

She also is appreciative of the upperclassmen who choose to remain in the residence halls.

“They become role models for first-year students,” Smith-Dunbar said. “They can become friends and learn about time management and classes. When the freshmen hear this from one of their peers, they’re more likely to listen.”

The move-in day can lead to reunions, too. Lacie Rhoden, a senior, was among dozens of student-volunteers on Saturday – all of them with “move-in” tags on their shirts.

A Hampton native, Rhoden helped a lot of freshman that day – especially Laura Purdy, also a Hampton resident who played soccer with Rhoden when both were still in high school. The endorsement of USCA from Rhoden and other friends was a key factor in Purdy’s decision to join them.

Courtney Robinson learned about USCA’s good School of Eduction, and that brought her there from Kingstree to major in early childhood education.

“Teaching runs in my family, and I like working with little kids,” she said.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter.