Contributing to what has become a growing trend to improve campus life, the University welcomed back students with a program, Welcome Back '98, held Wednesday at the University Center.

Organized by the University Center Events Committee and Associated Faculties, Welcome Back '98 familiarized students with UC businesses and organizations.

"We received a great response this year," said Keith Kowalka, assistant director of the UC. "People finally found out where certain services are offered; it was a learning experience for them."

The mid-day event featured several celebrities including the Rockets mascot, "Turbo," who performed his well-known half-time acrobatics.

In addition, Steel Away, a Houston-based steel drum band, performed for students at the UC Arbor.

Also serving as the musical entertainment for the event, KHMX Mix 96.5 FM played songs for students from its speaker-equipped van.

KHMX promotions staffer Marvin Moore said he thought the event was very successful.

"I'm here basically to contribute from the 96.5 station, and I'm having a ball. It's really impressive that they actually have a live band," Moore said.

Organizations and businesses around UH were also present at the event.

Established and nonprofit fraternities assembled by the M.D. Anderson Memorial Library to recruit members, displaying trophies for their community work.

"We're getting a chance to inform all incoming freshmen and recruit members," said Fernando Fernandez, member of the Omega Delta Phi fraternity.

Intrigued with the opportunity to win prizes, students toured the 16 UC businesses filling out a "UC Passport." Once students completed the tour they became eligible to participate in a raffle, which offered prizes ranging from airplane tickets to gift certificates from the UC vendors.

"Never say no to free stuff," advised Doga Baysal, a sophomore computer science major. "The more free stuff you get, the better the party is."

With that same philosophy in mind, UC businesses and offices gave away free campus paraphernalia, including plastic cups and coupons advertising discounts.

Fantastic Sams and Cougar Byte set up orientation tables offering students free beauty advice and informational brochures.

"This is a programmatic activity that was diversly sponsored," Kowalka said. "The response was so phenomenal that the UC may provide more activities like this every month."

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