WelcomeFest: ‘A highlight of the year’


Nicole Wiegand

Students pack inside the Memorial Union on Wednesday for WelcomeFest, an event that allows local businesses, clubs and campus organizations to showcase themselves to new and returning students. Students were lured to the event by free pizza, cupcakes and T-shirts. 

Kaleb Warnock

WelcomeFest is known for its copious amounts of swag like Koozies, coupons, condoms, cupcakes, pizza, peircings, makeup, massages, Ramen Noodles, water bottles and even stylish sunglasses.

“They were giving out sunnies!” said exchange student Valerie Phoon regarding the free sunglasses from Fampus.com. “No one gives out free sunnies!”

Ames businesses and organizations scrambled to feed, convert, recruit and even massage nearly 5,000 students at ISU’s annual WelcomeFest on Wednesday night. The Great Hall of the Memorial Union was packed with a sea of students that shuffled from booth to booth trying to catch a glimpse of some of the best businesses Ames has to offer.

“I didn’t expect it to be like this at all,” said Molli Wienhold, sophomore in environmental science. “It was crazy that there are so many booths that have so many coupons and deals.”

Of course, handing out free stuff gives businesses the chance to reach out to the student body. One of the most pervasive (and aromatic) handouts was the free pizza from Papa John’s.

“It’s a good opportunity to get ourselves out there,” said Meaghan Hall, shift manager of Papa John’s on Lincoln Way. “We give students coupons and usually get a pretty good return.”

WelcomeFest also gave Main Street and off-campus businesses like the Cupcake Emporium the chance to interact with students. Besides, it’s hard to beat free cupcakes.

“Main Street is kind of hidden; it’s nice just to let them know we’re here.” said Tawnya Zerr, of the Cupcake Emporium. “Hopefully I’ll see a bunch of people back.”

However, it wasn’t all about free stuff. There also were numerous church groups, job opportunities and outreach programs, many of which had unique ideas like the Youth Shelter Service’s interactive alcohol challenge and the dubiously named STD roulette.

Parks Library even had a quirky photo booth with a backdrop of bookshelves so students could get a picture in the library without the hassle of actually going there.

“We’re trying to make students aware of what we have to offer,” said Jody Kalvik, public relations representative of Parks Library. “It’s what can we do to catch people that normally don’t come to the library.”

The event has grown significantly from last year, said George Micalone, program coordinator at the Memorial Union. It featured 109 vendors and organizations, up from the usual number that hovers in the lower 90s.

“We’re excited that it continues to be a highlight of the year,” Micalone said. “People really endorse the event because of what it gives students.”