BUCKHANNON - Allie Hayes grew up around West Virginia Wesleyan College.
The Buckhannon-Upshur High School graduate's childhood home is two streets away from the campus. Growing up, Hayes hoped the manicured green spaces and stately academic buildings would one day be her college home.
"I've always wanted to be a student here, ever since I was little," she said. "My dad and I used to ride our bikes around the campus when I was a kid. I always thought it was beautiful."
Buckhannon-Upshur High School graduate Allie Hayes is one of nearly 500 incoming freshmen this year at West Virginia Wesleyan College. (The Inter-Mountain photo by Roger Adkins)
This weekend, Hayes joined hundreds of other incoming freshmen for orientation as the school welcomed its second-largest incoming class in a decade. The new class is comprised of 467 students from 25 states and nine countries, including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Korea, Northern Ireland, Spain, Venezuela and the United Kingdom.
Though she grew up close by, Hayes wanted to live on campus in order to fully experience college life.
"It's still like entering a different world. It's not even going to feel like I'm living in Buckhannon," she said.
While Hayes could have easily continued to live at home while going to school, her mother, Andrea Hayes, said she felt it was important for her daughter to immerse herself in the Wesleyan experience.
"I know the best thing for her, especially the first year, is for her to live on campus," Donna Hayes said.
Nicholas County High School graduate Kelsey Acree's enrollment at Wesleyan also seemed meant to be. She said the school stood out from the others she was considering.
"There was just a feeling when I got here. Everyone was really nice, and I had heard a lot of good things about the academic programs," Acree said.
Acree's mother, Beretta Acree, said she feels comfortable sending her daughter to Wesleyan. She appreciates the family atmosphere.
"I knew she would be going here. I don't know. I just did," Beretta Acree said.
Lane Acree is Kelsey's father. He said the school offered everything his daughter, as well as the entire family, wanted.
"Everything we were looking for happened here today," he said.
For Kelsey's younger sister, Emily Acree, her big sister's orientation day was a glimpse into the future. While college still is a few years away, the 14-year-old high school freshman said she gained a lot of insight that will no doubt prove useful when her time comes. She said she may even decide to attend Wesleyan like her older sister.
"I think it will help me a lot when it's time for me to choose a college," she said.
Annie Fleming is a pre-med student from Beverly and a graduate of Highland Adventist School. She said she was impressed with everything Wesleyan has to offer.
"They have a really great biology department. I had always heard people say it was one of the best," she said. "I wanted to go to a smaller school to be closer to my instructors."
Annie's mother, Donna Fleming, said the school was helpful throughout the entire process of application and enrollment.
"Wesleyan was the most responsive. If I needed to call them to ask a question, they were right there," Donna said.
The incoming freshmen found this weekend's orientation beneficial, with several saying it was well-organized and stress-free.
"There are people posted everywhere, so it's easy to find someone if I have a question," Kelsey Acree said.
Allie Hayes added, "It's really organized. It was nice that we were invited to the president's house for lunch. How many schools do that?"
This year's incoming freshmen class is expected to boost total student enrollment to more than 1,500, said Bernie Valento, vice president of enrollment management. One hundred forty eight of the incoming freshmen are attending with the help of WV PROMISE Scholarships. Forty-five class members are participating in the school's honors program, and 210 students will be participating in Wesleyan's NCAA Division II athletic program.
The school isn't just experiencing growth in enrollment. Wesleyan has added Petroleum and Natural Gas Geophysics, Social Justice Studies and Pre-Drama Therapy to the list of academic offerings. Additionally, the Bobcat Marching Band is making a comeback after a years-long hiatus.
Valento said incoming freshmen are moving to a campus that has experienced more than $7.5 million worth of enhancements. These include major improvements to the School of Business, artificial turf and a new track for the stadium and renovations to Doney Hall and the soccer stadium.