Posted on Sep 29, 2008

Union College freshman Stephen Dusel, a native of northern Massachusetts, visited Proctors Theatre for the first time Saturday and said he liked what he saw.

"It’s cool. I was walking down the hall looking at [things in display cases]. I didn't know what it all was, but it was pretty cool. I definitely think I want to come back here," Dusel said.

Dusel was one of about 200 students who participated in Welcome Back Students Day sponsored by the Union-Schenectady Alliance and the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. The event featured a "Scrabble-ectady" game, in which students obtained Scrabble words based on downtown businesses they visited and then used the words to compete for prizes at the end of the day's activities, which ran from 1 to 6 p.m.

DSIC Executive Director Jim Salengo said the event is the second such effort this year between the DSIC and the Union-Schenectady Alliance to connect undergraduate students at Union College with downtown Schenectady. But it was the first to include students from Schenectady County Community College as well. He said the event attracted a lot of incoming freshmen like Dusel.

"Doing it again in the fall allowed us to show those kids that are coming here now that downtown has a lot more to offer than perhaps [it offered to] the seniors who came here three years ago. The idea is to introduce them early on," Salengo said.

Union-Schenectady Alliance Cochairwoman Ariel Sincoff-Yadid, a senior political science and religious studies major at Union College and a native of San Diego, said her organization has been working to improve the connection between undergrads and the city where they live for four years.

"This event not only will introduce freshmen to downtown Schenectady, but it will also reintroduce our upperclassmen," Sincoff-Yadid said. "Schenectady was really different when I came here three years ago; I didn’t come down[town] into the city very much my first couple of years. When things started changing and I got a little older, I got to know the city better."

Some of the attractions for students at the Welcome Back event included a raffle with prizes like restaurant specials and paid hotel stays as well as bands performing music live. Sincoff-Yadid said downtown Schenectady itself has become an attraction.

"There are a variety of restaurants now, and I think the addition of [Bow-Tie Cinemas' Movieland] has been really big for Union students because Schenectady has a lot to offer. This is a great place to leave campus and get away for a couple of hours," she said. "A few of my friends and I have agreed that every other week we’re going to come and grab dinner at a different place downtown and take in a movie. Good things are coming to Bow-Tie."

In recent years, The Princeton Review of America's best colleges has listed Union College as having particularly poor "town-gown" relations, reflecting a disconnect between Union students and the city of Schenectady.

Dave Brown, a junior and co-chairman of the Union-Schenectady Alliance, said the alliance has been helping to improve the relations, which he believes will be reflected in later rankings. Sincoff-Yadid said the alliance has connected Union College students with all of the major downtown players, including Metroplex, the Schenectady County Chamber of Commerce and Proctors.

"All of those organizations have either agreed to allow Union College students to either become non-voting members or at least attend their organizational meetings so they'd have an idea of what was going on and relay that back to our group," she said. "Then back on campus we have liaisons to all of the Greek life umbrella organizations, the Minerva residential house system, the newspaper, the student forum, athletics and engineering [students]. We all meet every week, and basically we plan events both on and off campus."