After graduating from South Aiken High School in 2007, Bryson Larkin spent six years in the Army.


On Monday, he attended an orientation for mostly transfer and other non-traditional students – including about 30 other veterans. During his service, Larkin worked as a helicopter mechanic.


“I was ready to make a change, although I loved my job,” he said. “I just thought I’d try some other avenues and come back home.”


The university hosts a one-day session for groups of new students. New freshmen will attend a more comprehensive orientation program for two days, starting on Wednesday. A second transfer program and two more freshman orientations are scheduled in the next five weeks.


After being out of school for “lots of years,” Onassia Bonham said with a smile, she enrolled at Aiken Technical College in 2012. Now she will continue her education at USCA to earn a four-year degree in nursing.


“I’m looking forward to coming here,” she said. “It’s a big thrill.”


Dr. Jeff Priest, USCA’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, welcomed the new students to the campus. He pointed out that he joined the faculty in 1988 and chose to never leave.


“There’s a family atmosphere and culture we have here,” he said. “We have a faculty second to none in the state and region. We truly do have a focus on you.”


Priest cited some award-wining professors, as well as choral, visual arts and theater programs that offer just some of the many opportunities on campus.


USCA offers a wide range of activities, as does the community.


Avery Spears-Mahoney, the Aiken Downtown Development Association’s executive director, encouraged the students to check out downtown Aiken.


“I had the opportunity to meet with a few students and walk around downtown,” she said. “We can bring you guys there, too.”


Spears-Mahoney also invited the students to Oktoberfest – a festival downtown offering German beer or wine and local musicians. The students also can get involved in the community and meet a lot of people through the Aiken Young Professionals, administered by the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce. That program currently has about 250 members, Spears-Mahoney said.


Larkin plans to major in mechanical engineering and is looking forward to new experiences.


“The military was different from going straight to college from high school,” he said. “I’m looking at all the benefits that college will bring ... and appreciate my chances here.”


Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.