By Tyler Ellyson
KEARNEY — The University of Nebraska at Kearney was buzzing with excitement Friday night as students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members gathered to celebrate the start of a new academic year.
Approximately 3,500 people attended Blue and Gold Showcase, an annual event that welcomes new and returning Lopers and gives them the 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, Blue and Gold Welcome Week’s student coordinator. “I want to connect with them in a way that makes them feel welcome and at home here at UNK. I have loved every second of my experience here, and I want to pass on that same pride and love for this university to others.
The Harvard junior soaks up the energy during Blue and Gold Welcome Week. It may look like organized chaos, he says, “but sometimes that’s the most fun.”
David Vail, associate professor of history at UNK, was definitely having a good time. He encouraged students, colleagues and even his wife to take their best shot sitting above the dunk tank.
“Anyone who gets there has to take a history lesson. That’s the rule,” he told a group of guys hoping to dunk it.
Of course, it was assistant history professor Nathan Tye who made the first pitch.
“I like students, I like Blue and Gold and I like UNK,” said a drenched Vail. “That’s how I show it. UNK is all about community engagement and relationship building, 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 university programs.
Among the most popular vendors each year, Jimmy John’s prepared 1,250 sample-sized sandwiches for the event.
“I’ve had a long day, but I’m happy to be here,” said general manager Andrew Krause, who started preparing at 2 a.m. “We’ve been looking forward to this for a while.”
A former UNK student, Krause understands the importance of college to the community. The Lopers are both customers and employees, so it’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 the 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 create jobs.”
Based near Cope Fountain, chamber representatives promoted local employment opportunities. Students could scan a QR code and browse through a list of openings.
“It’s the No. 1 need in our business community right now,” Rusher said.
Less than 20 yards away, rookie Ellianna LaMay and other members of Loper’s cheer squad were handing out T-shirts to winners of a cornhole match.
It was a “crazy” week for LaMay, who went through sorority recruiting, joined Alpha Omicron Pi and performed at freshman convocation on Friday afternoon.
“I’m meeting a lot of new people, which is really exciting,” said LaMay, a pre-med student at Davey. “I think it’s important for people to get to know each other and kind of come out of their shell. I’m from a very small town and didn’t know many people, but I meet so many new people that I never would have met if I hadn’t come to something like this.
The Blue and Gold Welcome Week continues until August 26. There is a bilingual DJ and concert from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday at Cope Fountain, and Destination Downtown is scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday along Central Avenue in downtown Kearney.