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As UNC-Chapel Hill sophomores buy more meal plans to make up for lost time, Patti Frasco says, “This is pure proof that dining on campus is truly a unique and integral part of a student's college experience!”

Viewpoint: The first-year college campus experience gets a do-over at UNC

Incoming college sophomores missed out—big time—on so many experiences that go along with living on campus for the first time, including dining. This fall, it is that class’s chance to do it over. UNC Carolina Dining Marketing Director Patti Frasco reflects on what she calls the largest "first year" class in the history of college openings.

This fall, however, we are responding to questions from families and students who are academically second-year students but want to sign up for our meal plans to recapture the spirit from their missed first year.

Just over 4 years ago, I accepted the position of Marketing Director for Carolina Dining Services at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. There is nothing like being surrounded by the energy of thousands of young adults coming to campus each fall with grand visions of their new ‘adult’ life— finding new routines, meeting new friends, and trying new foods!

We can all agree that 2020 will go down in history as one of the most challenging and unique time periods we have experienced as a nation. This was especially true for the newly graduated high school class of 2020, looking to enter their first year at their chosen university. 

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Like many colleges and universities across the nation, our campus switched to remote instruction early in the fall semester with reduced operations and limited students on campus as we all navigated the unknown. Prior to the pandemic, food brought people together and our dining locations were the hub of activity and gathering. When COVID-19 swept the United States, we had to pivot and find ways to keep people well fed but separated and safe, with social distancing and to-go orders as our new norm. Walking through campus was like an episode from the Twilight Zone with minimal students and empty buildings. 

Looking ahead to fall 2021 we again find ourselves in a unique position, only this time it is filled with hope and excitement! Not only will we be welcoming our first-year students who recently graduated high school, we will also be welcoming the second-year student who will be viewing this fall through the lens of what is typically a first-year point of view. These students are looking to regain their first-year on-campus experience.

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All meal plan purchases at UNC-Chapel Hill are voluntary, and the majority of meal plans are sold to first-year students. This fall, however, we are responding to questions from families and students who are academically second-year students but want to sign up for our meal plans to recapture the spirit from their missed first year. We are expecting to welcome what I will call our largest “first year” student group in the history of UNC-Chapel Hill. This is pure proof that dining on campus is truly a unique and integral part of a student's college experience!

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We will continue to have stringent safety measures in place, but our team is fully prepared with exciting and expanded menus as well as more than 200 events to welcome our students back for an engaging and memorable fall. We will especially be looking forward to helping our second-year students recapture their missed experiences. At Carolina Dining Services, our main goal is to keep our Tar Heels well fed, happy, and feeling at home—and we stand ready to do just that!

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