Incoming Freshman Austin White had painted a huge, yellow "S" on his chest. His friends — John Patterson, Tyler Adkins and Joey Bernard — had painted "T, E, M," respectively.
All four are members of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Residential College in Arkansas Hall. And, all four are participating in "Battle of the Halls" — part of an orientation program meant to acclimate students to the University of Central Arkansas and the Conway community.
On Tuesday afternoon, at least 700 freshmen gathered in the field across from administrative offices to compete with each other in three-legged races and water balloon games. They cheered, did flips in the air and jumped to their tiptoes. Members of each house wore bright colors — red, yellow, even black — to represent the 11 groups participating in the event.
The event Tuesday is part of Welcome Week, which started Sunday when students moved on campus. On Wednesday, students get a look at various businesses as part of Conway Daze, spokeswoman Venita Jenkins said. Students begin class Thursday.
UCA has been holding the "battle" event for five years as a way to encourage students to bond to their peers and school, said Colin Stanton director of student orientation. The idea is to show them they "belong." That goes a long way toward keeping students in school and graduating from UCA, Stanton said.
Like other public universities and colleges statewide, UCA wants to increase the number of students entering college who stay in school and graduate with a degree. For freshmen entering UCA for the first time in 2005, in six years, only about 47.5 percent successfully graduated from the college, according to a 2011 higher education department report.
Welcome Week helps UCA retain students, but it also helps them be more successful students, Stanton said.
"[Welcome Week] serves to establish a sense of community on campus," he said. "At UCA, even though we are a larger institution, we are a tight-knit community. We want them to be successful in the classroom."
From across the field from Stanton, students yelled encouragements to their house mates. Patterson clenched his fist and yelled when the announcer asked for a cheer from STEM.
Over to the side, out of the line of activity, freshman Lauren Pettypool stood near a tree out of the sun. She is among about 25 students, dressed in black shirts, who came to cheer on people who live in Short-Denney Hall, she said. She came because the event is fun, even though her hall wasn’t winning.
"It gives us a chance to bond as a hall," Pettypool said.