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South Bend tour draws freshmen

Riely, Kaitlynn | Wednesday, August 23, 2006

While most Notre Dame students spent Monday afternoon settling into their rooms and preparing for the start of the academic year, over 100 freshmen boarded Transpo buses for the first-ever “Explore South Bend Tour.”

Freshman Jarrod Castro-Mendoza said the tour, which focused mainly on the downtown area, gave him a better impression of South Bend than he had coming into college.

“When I came here in the spring…all I saw was the really bad parts of town when I was leaving the city,” Castro-Mendoza said. “[The tour] made it much more positive.”

Now that he is aware of entertainment options available in the city, he said he may return with friends to some of the restaurants and museums he spotted.

The Senate Community Relations committee (CRC), Mayor Steven Luecke’s office and the city of South Bend sponsored the tour with the common objective to welcome the new freshmen class to the community and to give them information about things to do beyond campus limits.

Mikki Dobski, director of communications and special projects for the mayor’s office, said she has received positive feedback regarding the tour’s inaugural run.

“Everybody seemed to have a good time and good questions,” Dobski said.

It was an excellent opportunity for the mayor’s office to reach out to Notre Dame students, she said.

“I think we were showing students the kind of places that they were looking for, in terms of restaurants, food, and entertainment,” Dobski said.

Freshman Amy Kruger signed up for the tour to see the city she would be living in for the next four years. Kruger said she was impressed by South Bend, but was hesitant to recommend the tour to freshmen next year due to the lengthy amounts of time spent on the buses. Kruger recommended event organizers make the tour more interactive in the future.

CRC chairman Josh Pasquesi estimated 160 people showed up for the approximately two-hour tour.

“I think that overall it went great,” Pasquesi said. “We are happy with the numbers and we are definitely going to keep doing it next year.”

At the conclusion of the tour, the freshmen enjoyed local pizza and were treated to free fondue from the South Bend Chocolate Café. Luecke and student body president Lizzi Shappell welcomed the freshmen and encouraged them to take advantage of what South Bend has to offer.

“My message [to the freshmen] was just to engage themselves in the South Bend community, because it is easy to become comfortable living in the Notre Dame bubble,” Shappell said.

Luecke gave a brief history of the city and discussed how South Bend and Notre Dame can be partners. He invited students to contact his office to get more information about how they can get involved in the community.

Both the mayor’s office and the CRC are enthusiastic about making the “Explore South Bend Tour” an annual event. Dobski hopes to meet with the student government at some point in the coming school year to assess the success of the event and discuss ways to improve the tour for next year.

Dobski said she wants to keep the tour length to a reasonable time, but also thinks future tours should include a stop at local attractions like the Farmer’s Market, and should take students through more neighborhoods. Dobski also suggested expanding the initiative to give separate tours to new graduate students and parents.

“What we want to do is sort of open the gates to what’s available beyond campus,” she said.