By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney was buzzing with excitement Friday evening as students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members came together to celebrate the start of a new academic year.
About 3,500 people attended Blue and Gold Showcase, an annual event that welcomes new and returning Lopers and gives them an opportunity to connect with campus and the community.
“Choosing which college to attend is a very big decision in life, and my goal is to really show students that they made the right decision,” said Colton Roberts, the student coordinator for Blue and Gold Welcome Week. “I want to connect with them in a way that makes them feel welcomed and at home here at UNK. I’ve loved every second of my experience here, and I want to pass that same pride and love for this university on to others.”
The junior from Harvard enjoys the energy during Blue and Gold Welcome Week. It might look like organized chaos, he said, “but sometimes that’s the most fun.”
UNK associate history professor David Vail was definitely having a good time. He encouraged students, colleagues and even his spouse to take their best shot while sitting above the dunk tank.
“Everyone who hits this has to take a history class. That’s the rule,” he told a group of guys hoping to drench him.
Of course, it was assistant history professor Nathan Tye who landed the first throw.
“I love students, I love Blue and Gold and I love UNK,” a soaking-wet Vail said. “This is how I show it. UNK is all about community engagement and building relationships, and I like to celebrate that as much as possible.”
Organized by UNK Student Engagement and the Office of Student and Family Transitions, the showcase included a variety of games and activities, live music, a free picnic and plenty of prizes and giveaways. A total of 180 vendors participated, making it easy for attendees to learn about local businesses and nonprofits, student organizations, campus resources and academic programs.
Among the most popular vendors each year, Jimmy John’s prepared 1,250 sample-size sandwiches for the event.
“I’ve had a long day, but I’m happy to be here,” said general manager Andrew Krause, who started prepping at 2 a.m. “We’ve been looking forward to this for a while.”
A former UNK student, Krause understands how important the university is to the community. Lopers are both customers and employees, so he’s always happy to see them back in town after summer break.
“It’s great for Kearney,” Krause said.
Derek Rusher, president and CEO of Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce, called UNK a “difference maker” for the community.
“It’s a competitive advantage that Kearney has over our peers,” he said. “Students bring energy, they bring ambition to your community and they bring employment.”
Set up near Cope Fountain, the chamber representatives were promoting local job opportunities. Students could scan a QR code and look through a list of openings.
“That’s the No. 1 need in our business community right now,” Rusher said.
Less than 20 yards away, freshman Ellianna LaMay and other members of the Loper cheer squad were handing out T-shirts to winners of a cornhole game.
It’s been a “crazy” week for LaMay, who went through sorority recruitment, joined Alpha Omicron Pi and performed during freshman convocation on Friday afternoon.
“I’m meeting a lot of new people, which is really exciting,” said LaMay, a pre-medical student from Davey. “I think it’s important for people to get to know each other and kind of break out of their shell. I came from a very small town and I didn’t know a lot of people, but I’m meeting so many new people who I would have never met if I didn’t come to something like this.”
Blue and Gold Welcome Week continues through Aug. 26. There’s a DJ and bilingual concert from 7:30-11 p.m. Saturday at Cope Fountain, and Destination Downtown is scheduled for 5:30-9 p.m. Thursday along Central Avenue in downtown Kearney.