MERCED — For 18-year-old Jessica Furrer of San Diego, the parched landscape surrounding the University of California at Merced was a bit of a shock.
"Hello, desert," she said, in describing her first impression of the campus. "No beach."
Furrer, who is living away from home for the first time, brought the beach with her in moving into UC Merced's campus housing Saturday. She planned to decorate her room in nautical colors and brought her hermit crab on the 400-mile trip from Southern California.
Getting along with her roommate shouldn't be an issue. She is rooming with her best friend from the south state, Jeana Masters-Publico. They are sharing the three-bedroom apartment with four others.
"That is a lot of girls," said Furrer, a biology major who aspires to be an obstetrician. Her mother, Julie, added: "For someone who has had her own room at home, this should be interesting."
On Saturday, about 585 of the 1,000 students who make up UC Merced's inaugural class moved into campus housing.
UC Merced officials said they were assisting other students in finding off-campus housing in Merced. The university officially opens Monday.
Campus officials also said that students were coming from as far as New York, Chicago and Honolulu. But the opening of the first UC campus since 1965 mostly brought together young people from different parts of California.
A stream of students, family members and friends carried tubs stuffed with clothes, computers and sound systems into Valley Terraces, a campus complex consisting mainly of two- and three-bedroom apartments.
Two students are assigned to each bedroom, which includes beds with drawers underneath, desks, closets, a phone jack and two high-speed Internet hookups. Each apartment's residents share a bathroom and a furnished living room.
The $9,500 annual cost for campus housing includes meals in the dining hall. A second housing complex with 400 beds is set to open in fall 2007.
Snack preparations on course
Joshua O'Rourke, an engineering major from Riverside County, was looking forward to meeting his roommate, Arthur Huyhn of Fremont. They had communicated online and worked out an arrangement for preparing snacks in their Kern Hall suite: Huyhn was bringing a small fridge, so O'Rourke supplied a microwave.
O'Rourke said he was thrilled to be part of UC Merced's initial class.
"It's a new experience," he said. "It's far away from home, so it's like you are starting a new life. Everything about it is just exciting."
Kathy Hatfield, president of the Hughson Unified School District, expressed pride that her daughter, Katie, was attending UC Merced. She believed her daughter was the only Hughson High School graduate in the inaugural class.
She said she was impressed with the campus buildings that stand atop a hill near Lake Yosemite, about three miles southeast of Merced. "When we came in April, I never believed it would look like this," she said.
After many of the students settled in, parents gathered for an orientation presented by UC Merced Provost David B. Ashley and other campus officials.
The officials said there are advantages to students living on campus. It is easier to get involved in student activities, and services are available to help with the transition to college life.
After the officials spoke, parents inquired about a few problems. Not all of the housing units had shower curtains, and there was no power to electrical outlets in more than a dozen rooms.
Campus officials said they were working on it.
Dining Director Tom Welton said students could join a "Food for Thought" committee to make suggestions about the meals served on campus.
Students also were encouraged to browse tables providing info about employment, health services, student government, recreational activities and local fitness clubs.
Transportation was a concern for some students who do not have cars. The campus is located a few miles from shopping centers and movie theaters in Merced.
"I have no clue how I will get around," said Robert Rios, a computer science student from Hanford. "I guess I will try to hitch a ride with friends or catch a bus."
Angela Velazquez, who is living off campus, pored over bus schedules in trying to chart her commute between the campus and her home in Delhi.
Officials said the CatTracks Shuttle will provide transportation between the university and key locations in Merced on weekdays, evenings and weekends.
Most parents and students said that Saturday's arrival day went smoothly.
Amabelle Marquez, a biology major from Fresno, said she was eager to get started with her education. "I wanted to go to a UC school," she said. "It's only 45 miles away, so I can see my family and friends if I'm homesick."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at 578-2321 or email@example.com.