During Destination Downtown, UNK students connect with community, each other

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – Sophie Sayer has some advice for her fellow University of Nebraska at Kearney students.

Get out, explore the community and enjoy everything Kearney has to offer.

“Staying in your room is not necessarily ideal for the college experience,” she said with a laugh.

The sophomore from Syracuse led by example Thursday evening, when she and hundreds of other Lopers took over Central Avenue during Destination Downtown.

Organized by UNK Student Engagement and the Office of Student and Family Transitions, the annual back-to-school celebration gives Lopers an opportunity to get off campus for a night of fun.

“I think it’s incredibly valuable,” Sayer said of the event. “Coming out here I knew one person on campus, maybe two, so it was really nice to meet people and check out all the businesses.”

This year, Sayer was back on “The Bricks” with the same group of friends she met as a freshman, enjoying ice cream from Central Mercantile while Omaha pop/rock band Joystick played live music on the main stage.

Part of the traditional Blue and Gold Welcome Week festivities, Destination Downtown is all about having a good time. The event featured food, games, prize giveaways, a caricature artist and appearances by the UNK drum line and cheer and dance teams.

Nearly 40 businesses and organizations participated, with most of them offering discounts and special promotions.

“We’re really excited about the partnership with downtown Kearney. They really rolled out the welcome mat for UNK students, especially the first-year students who may not have been down here yet to see all the cool stores,” said Renae Zimmer, director of student engagement at UNK.

Zimmer’s goal is threefold: connect campus and the community, create a sense of belonging for students and celebrate their decision to attend UNK.

“We’re not asking them to do anything tonight other than relax and have fun,” she said.

Destination Downtown also benefits businesses in multiple ways. UNK students are potential customers who provide a big boost to the economy when they return to Kearney each fall, and they’re employees who help ease the local workforce shortage.

Laura Ryan believes the university and downtown business district complement each other.

“I feel that if the downtown is strong, that will keep our university strong,” she said, noting that the city’s unique shops and entertainment venues make Kearney an attractive option for current and future professionals.

Ryan is certainly doing her part to maintain that vibrancy. She owns The Denim Bar, a designer fashion boutique, and plans to open several more businesses this year, including a home décor store, bistro/coffeehouse and dress shop.

The successful entrepreneur has participated in every Destination Downtown for nearly a decade.

“I think it’s absolutely phenomenal and I wish that we could partner with the university on many, many more events,” Ryan said.