Student Blog: Why Salina?

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Editor's note: This is the first in a Spring semester series of student blogs that will cover topics relevant to the prospective KWU student. 

I’m Skylar Nelson, a senior at Kansas Wesleyan University studying English. I was born in a hospital only blocks away from KWU, so it seems like fate that I began attending the university 18 years later. I’ve lived in north-central Kansas all my life, and grew up in the small town of Bennington, roughly 25 minutes north of campus. 

As a small-town high school student, the hustle and bustle of bigger colleges intimidated me. I came from a graduating class of less than 30 students, which made Kansas Wesleyan and its smaller, less populated campus a perfect choice for me.

Though it sits right off of Salina’s busy Ninth Street, Kansas Wesleyan has an insulated feel to it. The campus layout creates a sense of community, with its easy-to-find buildings and eye-catching landscaping. Not only have I found it to be an ideal place to meet up with friends, I can also find peace and quiet in its more nature-centric areas, like the outdoor living room. 

When I arrived at Kansas Wesleyan, I quickly found out that the campus doesn’t just look like a community, it acts like one, too. Even when I was a timid freshman, my classmates would often approach me to chat and learn more about me. This was something I never experienced at my high school. When I needed a ride somewhere for a choir event, one of my fellow choir members always had a spot for me, even when we were newly acquainted. Professors make their classes a warm and inviting space, and never shy away from helping their students with academic and life problems alike. Note, I say this as a commuter student who seldom spends excessive time on campus. Without even trying, I found myself pulled into the fold and a member of the KWU community.

The sense of community doesn’t end there, though. The campus sits right at the foot of Santa Fe Street, Salina’s main downtown thoroughfare.  Resident students are always a short trip away from a myriad of small businesses to peruse and support. In addition, KWU has formed strong connections over the years with local businesses like the Stiefel Theatre, Ad Astra and On the Pot.

The historic Stiefel Theatre, originally constructed in 1931, is a former Fox Theater — one of the many built across the country — that has since been revamped, reopened and become host to a variety of concerts, including some in tandem with KWU. This venue not only provides ample opportunities for community members to attend concerts of all varieties, but it puts my fellow students on a professional stage, sometimes for the first time.

Just a short walk north from the Stiefel Theatre is Ad Astra, a common hangout for students and many Salina residents. Beyond holding community and KWU-specific open mic nights, they have a book collection for customers to explore, offer a variety of snack foods and drinks and a selection of vinyl records to flip through. 

Within Santa Fe Street, you will also find the homegrown pottery studio, On the Pot. Opened in 2002 by the Cates sisters, On the Pot has worked with KWU on several occasions, including a recent Valentine’s Day pottery experience. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has impacted the logistics of how these pottery nights work, but students can still exercise their creative side via appointment or KWU-based sign-ups. 

Downtown Salina provides a casual atmosphere for all of its visitors. It boasts small businesses of all kinds: boutiques, antique shops, tattoo parlors and restaurants. Its variety of sculptures, many of which were created by Kansas residents, make walking through the area akin to an art museum visit and supply opportunities for fun photo ops. By far, Santa Fe Street is one of the shining examples of what this area can offer. 

Another benefit of living in the Salina area is that there’s no shortage of nature to visit and explore. While many places are often either rural or urban, Salina strikes a positive balance between the two. Salina itself has a multitude of outdoor parks, but isn’t lacking indoor fun during those cold winter months. The Smoky Hill Museum, for example, is free to attend. At the moment, they’re encouraging attendees to make reservations to visit in advance, as per COVID-19 restrictions. You can also look at their online exhibits here: https://www.smokyhillmuseum.org/exhibits/online_exhibits_folder/online-exhibit-gallery.html

In terms of arts and culture, it was recently announced that Salina will once again be hosting its annual Smoky Hill River Festival with a small twist: it will take place in September, rather than June, due to COVID-19. The River Fest hosts local musicians, vendors and their wares and has plenty of events for adults and children. It will run from Sept. 2 - 5.

Salina is both “big enough” and “small enough” to meet all of my needs. With its nearly 50,000 residents, it provides plenty of diverse opportunities for entertainment and social interaction, such as the options listed above. At the same time, it’s condensed enough that I never feel as if I’m being lost in the crowd; instead, I know I’m always linked to my academic community. Whether you want to stand out or lay low, flow with the bustle or slow down, Salina has got you covered.

Blog by Skylar Nelson, MARCOM Intern