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Backstory: Look, Mom, it's me. I'm OK!

Web cams at Cornell and other schools give eager parents a glimpse of their kids.

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Bereft after moving her son into the freshman dorms at Cornell University a few months ago, Janet Hutchison found herself trawling the college's website for clues to his new life. A click on the weather link told her that Dan would need a jacket. A click on the chemistry department's Web page brought up the list of courses he'd have to choose from.

Then she found the school's "Hi, Mom!" Web cam. With a few taps of the mouse, she could swivel a camera high atop Barnes Tower and zoom in on the granite benches outside the campus store. She giddily called Dan on his cellphone and guided him into position. Then, there was her boy – live, on her computer screen – looking every inch the collegian, in his jeans, polo shirt, and new haircut, blowing kisses to Mom.

"It was heart-wrenching, just to see him," recalls Ms. Hutchison, a manager at a car rental company in Boston, a nearly six-hour drive from Ithaca, N.Y. "Just to see him live and to know he's OK."

Web cams have been a fixture on college campuses for close to a decade, beaming views of iconic quads and clock towers to would-be students and nostalgic alumni. But this year, Cornell joined a small number of campuses also deploying the cameras in a new way: as a digital tether to parents eager for live glimpses of children on their own for the first time.

For them, the "Hi, Mom!" cams offer a few seconds of reassurance that children are still brushing their hair, eating square meals, and wearing the Uggs that cost more than their parents once paid for tuition. When Dan Hutchison, 18, a chemistry major and rower, stepped under the lens for the first time, his mother beamed. "I told him, 'You finally got your hair cut,' " says Janet. "It was past time."

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