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Editorial: Smart for Westminster, McDaniel to foster strong relationship between city, students

Colleges and the municipalities in which they’re located have a sometimes uneasy relationship and Westminster and McDaniel College are no different. Traditionally, some of the city’s residents and businesses have viewed the college kids with suspicion and wanted little to do with them and many of the students have felt exactly the same way.

So we are heartened by the proactive, collaborative plan the school and the city put in place last year and expanded upon this year to welcome the incoming class on The Hill.

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The entire group of some 600 new students was invited to walk together from the college down Main Street — getting a first look at the many restaurants and shops they might well consider patronizing over the next four years — to the lawn of the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library to be met by Westminster Mayor Joe Dominick, McDaniel President Roger Casey, Greg Brock of Atlas Premier Realty, library Branch Manager Christina Kuntz, and Tiombe Paige, owner of Cultivated.

Thursday was move-in day at McDaniel for the incoming class of 587 first-years and 50 transfers hailing from 17 states and countries as far away as New Zealand. Classes begin Monday.

Saturday was about making the students feel comfortable downtown and to strengthen the engagement both ways, Associate Dean of Campus and Community Engagement Josh Ambrose told us. He noted that when he first came to the college as a staff member, there was a noticeable distance between Westminster and the college community, but that he’d found people on both sides wanted to change that. Adding the downtown Westminster welcome to the first-year orientation schedule is one of those ways.

The schedule called for the students to receive complimentary treats from The Cow and Kona Ice of Carroll County, sponsored by Atlas Premier Realty and Dominick’s company Gauge Digital Media, and then to stop at the city’s farmers market, which runs Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon, and then spend another hour exploring downtown, where many businesses had special offers waiting for them.

Dominick, who graduated from McDaniel, said when he was a freshman, he didn’t necessarily venture downtown or know what was there. He was correct when he said it’s easy to stay isolated when everything you need is on campus.

In addition to engaging students, Ambrose said networks of parents and friends will visit and tangentially become part of the community. When they visit, the hope is that they “don’t drive up 140, park and then leave,” he said. The focus Saturday was to expose them to elements within a student’s budget, like cafes with free Wi-Fi or reasonably priced tacos, “things that capture their attention without overwhelming them,” Paige said.

There’s a lot in downtown Westminster that could appeal and be of use to college students in close proximity, which is important given that many don’t have vehicles. As for local businesses, 600 or so potential customers just moved in within walking distance. For the students and their families who will take advantage of the goods and services, and for the proprietors of restaurants, beauty salons, law offices, and specialty shops, it’s a win-win when each group knows the other exists and realizes that forging a mutually beneficial relationship is in the best interests of both.

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