Thousands attend WelcomeFest to explore Ames businesses


A representative from Campus Christian Fellowship shares information with a student at WelcomeFest Aug. 24, 2022.

More than 2,200 students swarmed the Memorial Union to attend Iowa State’s bi-annual WelcomeFest on Wednesday night.

This number is less than last year’s estimated count of 3,000 students, but the event still filled the Great Hall from wall to wall.

At one point, the line to enter the event stretched from the Great Hall entrance to the Memorial Union parking ramp before wrapping back around toward the Great Hall, said Kristine Heflin, associate director of the Memorial Union for student engagement.

Students repeatedly stood at a stand-still throughout the displays as vendors mingled with the crowd.

“It’s much more packed than last year,” Mariangelis Rosa, a sophomore studying animal ecology, said. “It is a little bit overwhelming to be here.”

Around 100 vendors presented students with free merchandise and food while promoting their products and services. This number is similar to previous years, but a handful of vendors were attending the event for the first time.

One of these vendors was Crumbl Cookies, a chain business that is new to Ames.

Crumbl Cookies handed out free cookies from their company while others passed out a mixture of candy, t-shirts, cups and more.

Representatives from Primary Health Care presented a variety of condoms and lube for students to choose from and Papa John’s Pizza handed out 205 whole pizzas.

“[WelcomeFest] is mainly just an overload of free stuff, but if you’re really interested in something, it’s really easy to learn about,” Brianna Schwenk, a freshman studying food science, said.

Schwenk’s favorite item of the night was a mini bowling set she received from an arcade and bowling vendor.

Though WelcomeFest serves as an opportunity for students to rake in free items, coordinators also hope it promotes connections between students and the Ames community.

As students exited the doors to the Great Hall, event coordinators gave out stickers for students to place on a board to rate their comfort level within Ames and Iowa State. Categories included “I feel welcome at Iowa State” and “I’m still figuring it out.”

“We really hope that [students] get connected to the community so they find businesses or services that they need and so they feel like they have a home,” Heflin said.

To help accomplish this goal, the WelcomeFest coordinators reached out to more diverse vendors this year to support marginalized students.

One of these vendors was Essence of Natural Beauty, a supply store that sells extensions, weaves and more.

“I think [WelcomeFest] is a great way to see all the things that are offered at Iowa State,” Cloey Waterbury, a freshman studying mechanical engineering, said. “It’s a great way to see all of them in one place.”