WATERTOWN — Though the fall season doesn’t officially start until Sept. 23, students returned Monday to the Jefferson Community College campus for the start of their fall semester.

The campus, which had become almost a ghost town while students were away, once again teemed with life as a sea of students tackled the start of the term. From the glazed eyes and frazzled expressions of freshmen to the calm and collected demeanors of upperclassmen, it was clear that the students of JCC meant business on their first day — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any room for fun.

For the first week of classes, new and returning students will receive a warm welcome in the form of free food — two favorite words of any college student. New Student Services, the Alumni Association and the Campus Activities Board, will be providing various refreshments all week to ensure students start the semester off right.

Monday’s menu included French toast sticks at 8 a.m. and an ice cream social from 12:15 to 1 p.m. On the first floor of the Jules Center, students made the sweet treats to beat the heat and kick off the back to school week — the chopped nuts and rainbow sprinkles left behind in the aftermath a stark contrast to the black tablecloth beneath them.

Tuesday will feature doughnuts from Mr. Rick’s Bakery at 8 a.m., Wednesday will bring a granola bar at 8 a.m. and a soup bar from 12:15 to 1 p.m.; students can enjoy pretzel rods with chocolate and beer cheese from 12:30 to 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, and Friday marks the return of Fall Fest on campus.

Fall Fest will take place on the Quad, the center of the campus, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and will feature yard games, bounce house games, entertainment, and free food.

“Oh, wherever there’s food, there’s students,” said Dr. Ty A. Stone, the sixth president of JCC. Quick to laugh and equipped with a friendly demeanor, Dr. Stone has nothing but love for the students of the JCC community.

Sophomore business major Karley Mason, Cape Vincent, sat at a table toward the back of the Jules Center with white air pods in, listening to music while doing a bit of work on her laptop between classes.

“JCC honestly saves lots of money, it’s close to home, and you can take all the prerequisites you need in your first year, so it’s not like you’re behind any other schools,” Miss Mason said of the college’s appeal.

Donovin Sweetland, a native of Alexandria Bay and a freshman liberal arts major focusing on music, sat alone looking around as if to figure out where to go next, wearing a colorful snapback hat and a hoodie despite the warm weather.

While he agrees that a large part of the appeal of JCC is that it is close to home and affordable, Donovin believes that the community on campus is what stands out about the college. “Everyone is here to help out, and everyone is really nice, even the professors,” he said. “The food here is pretty good, too.”

Soon, the new faces with lost looks will give way to increasingly confident students walking the campus, according to Dr. Stone.

“I’m just excited the students are back; it’s kind of dead in the summers when the students aren’t here, so by the time they come we’re really over working with each other,” she said jokingly of the staff. “We’re really ready to have some new energy come on to the campus, so this is great.”

Though the biggest day of the year for JCC is Commencement, the first day of classes comes as a close second. Even so, not unlike the national trends of colleges across the country, enrollment is down at JCC. “We’re looking at, at the end of the day, probably about an 8 percent decline this fall,” Dr. Stone said. “I think that when the economy is doing better, generally that has an inverse effect on us, so we start to see enrollment going down. The economy is better, unemployment rates are down, so as a result, we are also experiencing a decline.”

Amanda Salisbury, a business major from Pulaski graduating next year, took some time away from chatting with her friend in their food court booth, the remnants of a Chinese food feast between them, to share her thoughts about the college.

Apart from the usual theme of JCC being close to home, this is Miss Salisbury’s first time going to college, and she says she loves it, especially the business department — professors Dawn Robinson and Irene Wilder in particular. This is good news for Dr. Stone. She says the best part of her job is without a doubt the students. Young and old, soldier and civilian, the students are the lifeblood of the college. As she watched them move through their first day in pursuit of books, supplies, classes, or some lunch, she remarked that they are already starting to find their way.

“I love interacting with them, talking to them, and watching them grow,” she said. “In the beginning they’re scared and nervous, but closer to the middle of the term you start to see them find themselves and their personalities are coming alive and they’re becoming more confident in themselves and their abilities, and just to watch that, to see it and just be a part of that, I call it a blessing.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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