'Welcome Back' event to bridge cultural gap
From shop windows to street signs - driving around Pocatello, it is hard to miss those orange and black welcome signs that have been popping-up just in time for the first day of classes at Idaho State University.
On Monday, 72 businesses from around the community came out to the Old Town Pocatello pavilion to welcome students back to school during the kick-off of Welcome Back Orange and Black week.
Old Town Pocatello executive director Stephanie Palagi said this event is the perfect opportunity for the community to offer a warm welcome to returning students, new students, faculty and staff.
"We are a university town, we have a ton of Bengal spirit and bengal pride, and this is really the only opportunity between now, the first day of school, and homecoming to really roll out the red carpet and welcome the students back," Palagi said.
Communiversity board member and ISU student Megan Moore helped coordinate the event. She said this event helps bridge the gap between the university and the community.
"We just want to show these students how awesome Pocatello is and then they can go out and support those local businesses and really just try to help it grow," Moore said.
And Monday's event was a success for "Communiversity."
More than 3,500 students alone came out to enjoy the food, music, games, and prizes, which event coordinators say is the most they've ever seen in past Welcome Back Orange and Black events.
But, the support has not always been this strong.
Mayor Brian Blad noted there was a long-standing invisible wall between ISU and the rest of the community.
"Three years ago when I came, you could not cross over that line, and the students that came here did not have a great experience because they did not know what was on the other side of that wall," Blad said.
He also said the university is one of the larger, if not the largest, most vital contributing factor behind the community's economic growth.
"We were not thinking ISU, we were thinking, in Pocatello: the railroad, Simplot, agricultural. For some reason we never thought university."
Blad estimated the university brings in $380 million annually.
"To me, it is obvious. You have to get Idaho State University involved in the community and vice versa in order for people to succeed."
But Blad and Moore have noticed this gap closing over the years that Communiviersity has been actively orchestrating these events over the past three years.
"Have I seen the wall coming down? Absolutely," Blad said. "I see it coming down daily because they are seeing that the community wants them here and they're proud of what they are doing."
"If ISU is doing something, we want the community there," Moore said. "If the community is doing something, we want ISU students, faculty and staff there."
In March, the university invites the community onto campus during the week-long event known as Celebrate Idaho State.