She's Off to a Frosh Start : Transitions: 'Yea, freedom!' Stephanie Hopkinson yells as she moves into a dorm to begin life as a college student.


Remember when the greatest quandary was whether to wear tennis shoes or flats to class? When the goal of the day was getting a telephone in the dorm room? When hours could be devoted to chatting with new roommates?

That was the life of Stephanie Hopkinson, 17, of Woodland Hills as she began her freshman year at Cal State Northridge last week.

What at first promised to be a rocky start--when a glitch appeared in her computer-produced class registration--smoothed out considerably as Hopkinson breezed through the labyrinthine system on equal doses of ingenuity, persistence and luck.

She indulged in all the traditional freshman activities, from the mother-daughter credit card passing, to the high school bulletin board hanging and the quick flight from the organized dorm party. "It was claustrophobic," she said of the gathering.

But in this computer age, registration is far from traditional. No long lines. No shopping for classes as if they were vegetables. No intimidating meetings with advisers.

Instead, modern-day students mail in their forms and then wait for their schedules to appear in their mailboxes. That's it. Theoretically.

A stray eraser mark on Hopkinson's registration prompted the university's computer to leave an introductory psychology class off her schedule. So she joined about 10,000 other students in the snaking lines of computer-assisted registration--or CAR--repair day.

"They told me to be prepared to be here all day," she said that morning.

At 8:30 a.m., half an hour before her appointment, things looked bad. Giant paperboards outside the registration building were covered with the ominous red words "closed" and "canceled." Only two sections of psychology remained that fit her schedule.

"Oh my gosh," she said, scribbling down the section numbers.

By the time she was herded inside, those two classes were also full. But Hopkinson moved fast. She struck up a conversation with the woman next to her in line, learned she was dropping one of the introductory classes and begged the psychology professor in charge--"pleeeeease"--to let her have that opening, instead of giving it to one of the names on the waiting list.

"I am the luckiest person in the world. Life is just beautiful," she said, laughing, as she rushed out after only 10 minutes in the registration checkout lines.

Hopkinson graduated from El Camino High School last spring with average grades and test scores that she knew would never carry her to a University of California campus. She chose CSUN, she said, mainly because it is close to home.

She was encouraged to live on campus by her mother, Joyce, who lived in the dorms while attending college in Connecticut, even though her family's home was also within commuting distance.

On Sept. 1, the dormitory parking lots were gridlocked by cars and trucks brimming with suitcases, boxes and plastic bags filled with students' belongings.

Hopkinson was doing her share. Besides mountains of clothes and linens, there were the large items: a stereo, a microwave, a computer she got from her parents for graduation and her bulletin board, covered with high school and soccer memorabilia.

"Oh my gosh, girl!" exclaimed her roommate, Nicole Noyes of Simi Valley, as she hung up an armload of clothes.

"I'll never wear half of this stuff," Hopkinson conceded.

Despite a trend in the '80s for students to dress for success, the style now has definitely swung back to informal. Hopkinson wears the basic uniform: white leather high tops with lots of shoelaces, bulky athletic socks, shorts and baggy shirts, mostly in pastel colors.

Waiting in line to get checked into the dorm, she was showered with advice from seasoned sophomores and juniors: Be sure to log every hole in the wall or the housing office will charge you for them at the end of the year; avoid the dorm "Dating Game" night--it's a bore.

"You have to lock your door because people come around at night and try all the doorknobs," said sophomore Ken Davis, 19. "We had a few stereos stolen that way last year."

The rooms in The Parks, CSUN's newest dormitories, are long, narrow white closets with an extra-long single bed and small desk shimmied up against each wall. But each two-bedroom suite shares an ample living room, bathroom and small kitchenette.

"Wow. This is a lot nicer than when I went to college," Joyce Hopkinson said.

Joyce and Rod Hopkinson helped their daughter with the move. They met her roommates' parents and compared their daughters' respective sports injuries. Rod Hopkinson quietly quizzed one of the housing coordinators about security in the dorms.

As her parents left for home, Stephanie Hopkinson shouted: "Yea, freedom!"

Her plan for the first hours after moving into the dorm was to work at getting her telephone hooked up. "Ooooh, I can't stand not to have a phone," she had said a few days earlier. But Noyes had already taken care of that, with the requisite call waiting.

Instead, they borrowed their mothers' credit cards and headed for Mervyn's and Strouds, where they completed the adornment of their dorm beds, which double as couches and study coves, with more pillows.

Although the dorm's first party--Monte Carlo night--was too crowded for her tastes, Hopkinson and her roommates all are hoping for active social lives. For now, they compare notes about cute guys they've spotted roaming in the dorm.

"We have almost a whole guys' floor. Did you know that?" Noyes asked as they unpacked their boxes.

"Cool!" Hopkinson replied.

Slang from the '60s and '70s has been recycled. Besides "cool," Hopkinson and her roommates punctuate conversations with words like "awesome" and "ding-dong." They preface most exclamations with "so" as in "so bad," "so good" and "so-o-o-o cute."

Her first class was Tuesday--Psychology 150--and the course is so popular that students filled all 42 desks in the small room and dozens more stood single-file against the walls. Hopkinson had gotten there early enough to get a desk near the front.

Her psychology instructor was practically a contemporary. Laura Steiger, 23, a teacher intern who is in her second year of graduate studies at CSUN, described psychology as more than just "solving weird movie mysteries" in television programs.

The two ends of the spectrum--class clown and obsessive studier--were already making themselves known. When Steiger asked what students think of when they hear the word psychology, the joker blurted out, "Couches." Later, the studier asked if she could tape-record lectures.

"She is so nice, I can't believe it," Hopkinson said of Steiger as she left the class. "I always think of psychology professors as those old men with pot bellies. She explains things so well. She's so easy to understand."

But by week's end, Hopkinson was less enthusiastic. The psychology text seemed pretty boring, she said, and she was already feeling a little overwhelmed by the hard work piling up ahead. She had a half dozen midterms scheduled, as well as several nights of more immediate homework: more chapters to read in her psychology and government texts, a tape of a Martin Luther King sermon to listen to and a speech to write.

"It's really a lot," she said.

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