The parking lot was packed; the line at Starbucks was long; and students zipped across the quad on new electric scooters they can access with their smartphones.

USC Aiken welcomed the Pacer Nation, including about 600 freshmen, to campus Thursday for the first day of classes of the fall semester.

First-year student Patrick Jefferson, 19, navigated the crowd of students who filled the lobby of the Student Activities Center to learn about the many services the Division of Student Affairs offers, play ping pong and video games, reconnect with old friends or make new ones.

Jefferson, from Columbia, said he chose USCA because it wasn't too big, he loved the atmosphere and it offers his major: gaming design.

“No other school I visited had my major,” Jefferson said. “I want to design the graphics, backgrounds and animation for games – the atmosphere of the game and how it looks. I'm really a creative person.”

While Jefferson is just starting his college career, Keely Seider, an early childhood education major from North Augusta, started her junior block, the beginning of her professional education program, including in-school practicums and her internship, on her way to becoming a classroom teacher.

Seider said her fifth-grade teacher at Belvedere Elementary, Mary Head, inspired her to become a teacher.

“I've always dreamed of being a teacher,” said Seider, who hopes to teacher kindergarten or first grade. “This has been a long road for me, and I can't wait to get into the classroom.”

Seider called USCA's teaching program “amazing.”

“I'm a nontraditional student, and we're all in this together,” she said. “It's been a great team, and we're going to produce some amazing teachers when we get done.”

In the School of Nursing, returning students brushed up on skills, and new students in the program, taking their first nursing course, learned basic procedures on the first day of class.

“It's always exciting because we always have a new group of students who are just entering the program,” said Dr. Thayer McGahee, the dean of the School of Nursing. “They really bring just a freshness and an excitement. There's something palpable in the air today. The first day we have them in the lab, and that's really fun and new and exciting. It gives them a hands-on taste of nursing from day one.”

The class of 2023 by the numbers is as follows:

• Size: Approximately 600 students

• High schools represented: 160

• South Carolina counties represented: 36

• Largest numbers from South Carolina counties: Aiken, Lexington, Edgefield, Richland and Barnwell

• States represented: 20

• Largest numbers from states: South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and Maryland

• Countries represented: 5

• Gender: Approximately 40 percent male, 60 percent female

• Largest majors declared: Nursing, business, biology, exercise and sports science, education and engineering.

Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.