Campus housing at the University of Montana opened last weekend to students arriving early, and most of the rooms will be spoken for by Friday.

With the start of a new academic year just days away, residence halls at UM are braced for a wave of incoming freshmen, just as the university’s cafeterias prepare to feed the masses.

“Imagine you’re feeding a couple thousand people all summer, and virtually over the weekend, you’re feeding 15,000 to 17,000 people,” said Mark LoParco, director of UM Dining Services. “It’s an enormous task, and it takes quite a bit of gearing up to do it.”

LoParco said Dining Services is looking to hire 450 students to help run the cafeterias. Job applications are popping up across campus and students who want to make a few extra bucks are invited to apply.

“We’ll go from maybe 50 to 60 students on our payroll this week and by mid-next week, we’ll hopefully have hired 450 students,” said LoParco. “The meals have to happen. We’ve got to be sure our doors are open when they’re supposed to be.”

New student orientation takes place this Thursday and Friday, and classes begin Monday. First-year law students began their required introductory program this week, and a welcome back picnic was held Tuesday for faculty and staff.

The university spent the summer deep cleaning its residence halls and stripping floors. It also embarked on several capital improvements, including electrical work and painting bathrooms.

“We’re expecting about the same amount of (student housing) contracts we had this time last year,” said Sandy Schoonover, director of residence life at UM. “We’re down about 100 to 150 from our capacity, but we’re even with where we were last year at this time, and we may actually be a few contracts ahead.”

Schoonover expects nearly 70 percent of incoming students to be situated by Friday. A mandatory floor meeting will be held for all new tenants to apprise them of campus policies.

“The university is coming out with different sexual assault, harassment and discrimination policies,” Schoonover said. “We talk about all our policies and procedures, and the student conduct code.”

This Friday, UM President Royce Engstrom will give his State of the University address. He’s expected to highlight the accomplishments of people across campus and note the university’s progress over the past year, while also focusing on the year ahead, from new programs to new buildings.

The president’s speech will be offered by live stream at

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at