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By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – University of Nebraska at Kearney students bring an energy and exuberance to the city.
You can see it on campus, along the streets and inside local businesses. It’s easy to tell when they arrive every August.
This sense of excitement and enthusiasm was on full display Friday evening during the annual Blue Gold Community Showcase sponsored by UNK’s Office of Student Engagement. The event, part of Blue Gold Welcome Week, brings 2,000 to 3,000 students and community members together to celebrate the start of a new school year and connect with each other.
“It’s a good opportunity for everybody to get together and build that town-gown relationship,” said Tim Danube with the student engagement office.
About 175 businesses and organizations took part in the festival, lining the sidewalks near the Bell Tower with tables and canopy tents. There were games, a dunk tank, balloon artists, free food and drinks, including a picnic hosted by UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen, and plenty of product giveaways.
Wells Fargo had bags, cellphone wallets, keychains, pens and other swag for attendees.
Laurie Parker, manager of the bank’s downtown Kearney branch, said it’s always an exciting time when new and returning UNK students begin arriving in town.
“They bring so much to the community,” she said. “During the summer, the energy in town goes down just a little bit.”
Blue Gold Community Showcase gives Parker an opportunity to meet UNK students and share information about Wells Fargo’s services. For her, the event is an all-around fun time.
“It’s a great energy. I love being out here,” Parker said.
Across the Campus Greens, quite a line was forming at the Buffalo Wild Wings booth, where free cups, 2-ounce bottles of honey barbecue sauce and coupons for snack-size chicken wing orders drew a crowd. The restaurant’s ring-toss game gave students a chance to win a full-size bottle of sauce – if they were accurate enough – and the winner of a “Blue Gold blazing challenge” wing-eating contest walked away with “free wings for a year.”
General manager Scott Klone called the showcase a good experience for students and businesses.
“It’s a great way to get involved with the students coming back and let them know what Buffalo Wild Wings has to offer,” he said.
In addition to wings and sauces – the restaurant brought 200 large bottles and 500 of the smaller versions to give away – Klone and his team were also promoting job opportunities. Most of the local business’ employees are UNK students, he said while noting the university’s importance.
“It energizes the town. It energizes the businesses here. It has a huge impact on the Kearney economy,” Klone said. “In the summertime, you can tell when the students aren’t here.”
Fun and games aside, Blue Gold Welcome Week and the community showcase serve an important role. The events give incoming freshmen a chance to familiarize themselves with campus, meet new people and learn more about UNK and Kearney. A number of UNK departments, clubs, organizations and services were represented at Friday’s showcase.
Ethan Keilig, a freshman from Ravenna studying Spanish translation and interpretation, was impressed by the turnout.
“This is a really cool event,” he said. “There are a lot of people walking around and you can talk to them really easily.”
The Southeast Community College transfer picked up some ideas about potential jobs along with plenty of free stuff, including a blue snow cone that hit the spot on a warm evening.
Cold treats are always nice in August, but there’s an aspect of the event UNK junior Haley Pierce, coordinator of Blue Gold Welcome Week, enjoys even more.
“What I like the most is seeing the enthusiasm the Kearney community has for the UNK campus and the way they welcome students,” she said.