Steve Walker '08 had a simple plan. He wanted to alter the misperceptions some Union students harbored about Schenectady. He hoped to persuade more students to venture downtown. Ultimately, he wants to boost the social and economic fortunes of a city that has seen its share of tough times.
The plan gets its first test Saturday, April 26, when local restaurants, shops and cultural attractions host “Show Me Schenectady,” a daylong event for students to sample city life.
It’s the first major event organized by the Union-Schenectady Alliance, a group created by Walker and Josh DeBartolo '08 to improve relationships between the College and the city.
Working with organizations like the Chamber of Schenectady County, the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. and Proctors Theatre, the alliance hopes to lure hundreds of students downtown Saturday.
From noon to 5 p.m., students can dine on specially priced entrees, enjoy discounts on merchandise and participate in other games and activities, including a scavenger hunt. Students can also register for a poker run, which allows them to collect cards from select businesses throughout the afternoon. Students with the best poker hands will win prizes.
At 5 p.m., the College’s a cappella groups will provide entertainment at Jay and State streets, weather permitting. During the evening, some restaurants will offer specials for those with Union IDs. Proctors will also offer Union students half-price tickets to the New Plays Festival performance of “Battles of the Bands” at Upstairs, 440 State Street; and a free performance of “Barrage” on the main stage at 8 p.m. In addition, Iwerks movies at Proctors that day will be half price for Union students.
Trolley service will be available to shuttle students between the campus and downtown.
“We want to show everybody what Schenectady has to offer,” said Walker, a Political Science/Economics major from Wolfeboro, N.H.
Since January, the Union-Schenectady Alliance, which numbers about two dozen students, has met weekly in Wold House to promote its mission. Students have joined numerous committees and boards in the Schenectady community as non-voting members to engage local leaders in working together.
“We wanted to connect the brightest people on campus with the most influential people downtown,” said Walker.
The alliance evolved from a project Walker and DeBartolo, an Economics/Psychology major from Middleburgh, N.Y., did last fall for Hal Fried, the David L. '39 and Beverly B. Yunich Professor of Business Ethics. Told to ignore practical considerations and rely instead on their creativity and imagination, the pair was asked to create a vision of a Schenectady that young people would be reluctant to leave. Their resulting study was presented at a regional economic conference, where it was greeted enthusiastically by area business and civic leaders.
“The Union-Schenectady Alliance is a remarkable student-driven initiative,” said Fried. “It is based upon the premise that the College can benefit from a richer connection to Schenectady and vice versa. The concept is working in Schenectady, and it’s certainly scalable to other communities with educational institutions.”
One of the alliance’s biggest supporters is Proctors Theatre CEO Philip Morris. He envisions a downtown filled with Union students, starting with Saturday’s event.
“It’s the beginning of making Schenectady a college town,” said Morris. “You look at old pictures and see all the people downtown. We can have that again, because the energy of these students is incredible. They made this happen.”