By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s annual Blue and Gold Showcase looked a little different this year, but it still brought the same energy and excitement to campus.
With face masks on and safety measures in place, Lopers of all ages came together Friday to celebrate the start of a new school year and welcome incoming freshmen and transfer students to the UNK family.
“This is something to look forward to that raises students’ spirits,” said UNK junior Brian Mora of Grand Island.
Mora was happy to see campus hopping again after COVID-19 altered the spring semester and canceled countless UNK events. The president of Phi Delta Theta used the showcase to promote his fraternity and, hopefully, recruit new members.
“It’s really good for freshmen to expand their outlook and grow their connections,” he said.
That’s a primary goal at Blue and Gold Showcase.
The event, which was limited to the campus community and exhibitors to decrease crowd sizes, gives students a chance to learn more about UNK organizations and services before classes begin.
“This is one of the first events for students to really figure out what’s available to join on campus and how they can get involved,” said Mila Serefko, president of Loper Programming and Activities Council (LPAC). “It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and develop that Loper pride early on.”
Serefko, a UNK senior from Gretna, has attended Blue and Gold Showcase the past four years. Her favorite part is seeing the enthusiasm students have for their organizations and clubs.
“They genuinely want people to experience all these things that make UNK so great,” she said.
Freshman Nicole Messbarger was already familiar with UNK – several family members are alumni – but even she was surprised by everything the university offers.
“There are a lot of clubs I didn’t know about,” Messbarger said while enjoying a free barbecue meal catered by UNK Dining.
The Kearney Catholic graduate is interested in several of them, including Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Exercise Science Club.
“I took quite a few cards. I’m going to have to go through them and see what I can fit in my schedule,” she said.
In addition to her coursework in UNK’s pre-medicine program, Messbarger will compete on the women’s track and field team.
Another popular part of the showcase is all the free stuff. Nearly every student had a bag full of goodies, from face masks, pens and gift cards to water bottles, candy and squirt guns.
The Buckle was among the roughly 80 exhibitors giving away swag at this year’s event.
“A lot of these students are new to town, so this helps us get our name out there,” said Margaret Derr, a national recruiter for the Kearney-based clothing company.
Blue and Gold Showcase helps promote local businesses and nonprofits while introducing incoming freshmen and transfer students to the community. Many exhibitors also have employment opportunities.
“We’re hiring almost all the time, especially at corporate,” Derr said.
The Buckle, which has a retail store at Hilltop Mall, is a regular at the UNK celebration. Derr is no stranger to the event herself. She started attending as a child and eventually enrolled at UNK, where she graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in organizational and relational communication with a business emphasis.
“I loved UNK, so it’s fun to be back here,” Derr said. “I was super excited for this event.”
Sponsored by the Office of Student Engagement, the showcase is part of UNK’s Blue and Gold Welcome Week festivities. The event also included a concert by country artist Luke Mills and appearances by the Pride of the Plains Marching Band drum line, UNK’s cheer and dance teams and Louie the Loper.
Following the showcase, the UNK community was invited to a drive-in movie and fireworks show on campus.
Fall semester classes begin Monday.
PHOTOS BY TODD GOTTULA AND KOSUKE YOSHII, UNK COMMUNICATIONS