Georgia Tech president Ángel Cabrera stands atop the hill outside Glenn Hall, gold bicycle helmet in hand and a grin underneath his mask.

It’s an unusual, pandemic-era move-in day for first-year students and, for an hour now, Cabrera has been attempting to hop on his bike and pedal to another part of campus to see how things are going.

But he keeps stopping to help folks.

Cabrera is chatting with a reporter about how exciting the day is — and about the precautions his school has put in place to make things safe — when, on cue, he spots a student and her mother struggling to push a heavily burdened cart up the hill.

“Wait, you need help with that?” Cabrera says. “Where are you going?”

Pam Bowie and her daughter, 18-year-old Sophia, were happy for the assist — and thankful for everything Sophia’s new school was doing to make an already stressful day a little less worrisome.

“I’m hopeful that things are gonna be OK,” Pam Bowie said. “The alternative is being home and doing nothing. At least her life is moving forward.”

Georgia Tech freshman Sophia Bowie, 18, a Computer Science major, and her mother, Pam Bowie, of Chicago, Illinois, prepare move into Glenn Hall in Georgia Tech campus on Saturday, August 8, 2020. With requirements for masks and social distancing, this year's move-in for new students is taking place over two days with signing up for move-in time slots. (Photo: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Georgia Tech freshman Sophia Bowie, 18, a Computer Science major, and her mother, Pam Bowie, of Chicago, Illinois, prepare move into Glenn Hall in Georgia Tech campus on Saturday, August 8, 2020. With requirements for masks and social distancing, this year's move-in for new students is taking place over two days with signing up for move-in time slots. (Photo: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The coronavirus pandemic rages on and, as schools, colleges and universities across the country stare down the start of the fall semester, they’re tasked with figuring out how to provide an education while also ensuring safe living and learning environments for students.

For many institutions, getting students onto campus is the first physical hurdle.

At Georgia Tech, Saturday’s move-in day included a drive-thru check-in at the rec center parking deck, complete with temperature scans. New students and their families were given appointment times and actually moved into their dorms at a staggered pace.

There was plenty of the usual hubbub. Mini-fridges and microwaves abounded. Unabashed excitement mixed in with hushed parent-child bickering? Yep.

But crowds were smaller. Student helpers handed out reusable face masks. COVID-19 testing sites were just around the corner ― part of the school’s ambitious (and free) campus testing initiative.

“The feedback I’m getting from families is that they can tell that we paid attention and a lot of attention to detail,” said Sheree Gibson, Georgia Tech’s director of residence life.

Brendan Oshida, an incoming Georgia Tech freshman from Columbus, Ohio, said his move was going smoothly. He felt good about things moving forward.

“I‘m gonna do my best to always keep my mask on and clean a lot, but other than that’s there not much else I can do,” he said.

Classes at Georgia Tech are scheduled to start Aug. 17, a week after Monday’s start at some other University System of Georgia schools like Clayton State and Georgia Gwinnett.

All 26 University System schools are planning to offer various forms of in-person instruction, along with online courses and hybrid classes (a mix of in-person and online teaching). Several private colleges and universities in the Atlanta area have decided in recent weeks to go solely to an online learning schedule for the fall semester.

“I feel very comfortable,” said Lawrenceville resident Mel Collins, who was moving his son in Saturday. “I think Georgia Tech has taken every effort they can to make it safe for kids to move in.”

Back outside Glenn Hall, Cabrera finished helping the Bowies with their cart and found a shaded spot out of the already scorching mid-morning sun. Behind him, a sign declaring that “Jackets protect Jackets” — a reminder for students to be smart and be safe — was perched in the grass.

The president said things were going so smoothly that the school might keep some of its new procedures in place for post-pandemic move-in days.

But, of course, Saturday was just the beginning.

“We’re committed to making sure that they have the transformative college experience that they’ve dreamed of,” Cabrera said. “And it takes everybody. It takes all the things we’re doing and all the precautions and systems we utilize and all that. But then every person has to be a part of the program.”

Staff writer Eric Stirgus contributed to this article.

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