Among a sea of yellow-shirted move-in volunteers, you’d think the University president would stand out.
But on Saturday, President Steven Knapp was just one of more than 1,000 volunteers that were stationed to help lift the heavy luggage of freshmen moving onto campus for the first time.
Students on both the Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses received help from Knapp, who spent three hours assisting with move-in at five residence halls. Many of the students who received Knapp’s move-in help said they were impressed that the University’s highest-ranking official would help lug boxes and belongings into their new homes for the year.
The gray-haired administrator – clad in a baseball cap and a yellow move-in shirt with “GW President” emblazoned on the back – carried one of freshman Jill Tessler’s large green duffel bags on his shoulder and hauled another under his arm into the F Street building.
“I really felt bad he was carrying all my stuff,” Tessler said, her two, 6-foot-long bags stuffed to the brim with the belongings that will fill her room this year.
Having the president carrying her belongings, however, did not ensure smooth sailing for Tessler. When they reached her door, the key wouldn’t work. After a couple of seconds, Tessler allowed Knapp to try to open the door. He, too, could not get the door to budge.
Tessler said the key debacle ended up being “kind of comical.”
“It really kind of broke the ice for moving in,” Tessler said. “It was really nice to meet him, and it was a really personal connection the first second I got here.”
Jeff Smith, whose daughter Jayme moved into Thurston Hall Saturday morning, said he was impressed that the University president was helping move students into their residence halls.
“Ever since I have gotten to this University for her orientation, I have been impressed,” Smith said. “By far, this place has class.”
Knapp said he was motivated to help new freshmen move in for a variety of reasons, including the fact that his home is directly across the street from Thurston Hall where more than 1,000 freshmen will live this year.
“I want to make a point of meeting families when they first show up,” Knapp said. “It’s just a good way to get to know the families and see where people are coming from, and see how their sons and daughters are doing when they first arrive on campus.”
While Knapp told one parent he was “just carrying boxes,” he also said volunteering at move-in was a good way to make sure everything was going smoothly and gather suggestions on improving the move-in process in the future.
Knapp praised the housing staff and student volunteers, saying that every year he has assisted with move-in “the operation has gotten smoother and smoother.”
“People really know how to do this,” Knapp said. “I am hoping the new students get the impression that we are focused on them and their experience. We want to make sure they have a good experience when they first arrive.”
Since becoming president of GW in August 2007, Knapp has assisted at every freshmen move-in. Though he says he started the tradition of assisting every year “pretty much on [his] own,” he did meet new students in a similar fashion during his time as dean and provost at Johns Hopkins University.
Knapp also had advice for incoming freshmen: get to know the city and get everything you can out of it, while being sure to maintain focus on school work.
“It is an exciting time here,” Knapp said. “It’s a great city with a tremendous amount going on. My message is to always try and balance what you do in the city with your engagement in the life of this vibrant University community right here on campus.”