A caravan of plastic bins full of clothes, keepsakes, and study snacks rolled into the student residence at Lakehead University's Orillia campus Thursday.

Cheery, masked RAs and balloons greeted students in Lakehead's signature blue and gold. But this move-in day was more subdued than in years past.

While the residence can accommodate 200 students, only about 35 are moving in this fall. Even with most learning pushed to online platforms, some students want to capture the essence of campus life.

"[I'm excited] to make some new friends. To learn how to live on my own without my parents and become more independent," said Shane Mangalam of Toronto.

Mangalam doesn't feel robbed of a true frosh experience because of COVID-19.

"To be honest, I'll be fine with it because I'm trying to focus on my studies," the media and communications student said. "I'm someone who gets distracted really easily, so it's better to do just do my own thing. "

Kiana Jeannie-Broderick also cited academics as the reason she left her home in Guelph to move into the residence.

"I find it really hard to pay attention when I'm at home, there's so many distractions. So it would just be a lot easier, and I would get better marks [living] here," the social work student said.

Lakehead U administrators are determined to make the start of the school year special, even if traditional ice-breakers don't work in the middle of a pandemic.

"Three-legged races are probably out," said residence life coordinator Cam Malthaner.

But there is a virtual trivia night planned, and a physically-distanced movie night in a lecture hall.

Students living on campus still have access to amenities like the cafeteria, library, book store and study space, and they don't have to share bathrooms. Capacity in the cafeteria has been reduced, and some campus services are also being offered online.

Even with fewer students, administrators are glad to see the campus re-animated.

"There's still an energy that comes with those new students, and I know for me, it's one of the most exciting parts of the year," said Frank Cappadocia, Associate Vice President of Administration and Community Engagement.