A popular reason to go into town.

You’ll often find Connor McNeish, a senior at Ithaca College, eating Bandwagon Pub’s salty fries during their three-dollar Wednesday night fry special. You can also find him frequently strolling the Commons on the first Friday of every month for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) Gallery Night.  

“I really like looking for new places to eat and things to do that aren’t necessarily right on campus. There’s a ton that the town offers that isn’t just geared toward college students,” McNeish said. “It’s nice to get out of that bubble that is the IC campus.”

Plenty of students, both from Ithaca College and Cornell University, find themselves getting off the hills and exploring the Ithaca area. Whether it is the various gorges, nature trails, festivals, and farmers’ markets, college students have plenty of motivation to explore the greater community. 

McNeish said he always felt connected to the community even as a freshman without a car. He would often use the TCAT bus system to head downtown to explore.

“I think if I only stayed on campus, my view of Ithaca would be very limited to what the town actually is. Even though we are college students and are here for four only years, we are part of a larger town where people live. It’s not just about IC and Cornell,” he said. 

The college senior also joined Ithaca College Big Brothers Big Sisters, a campus chapter of the national organization that pairs volunteer mentors with children in the Ithaca community. As a first year student, he chose to mentor a child in the local area and form a relationship with them through visiting different parts of Ithaca.

“It was a nice way to force myself to get off campus and experience the area in a new way. A lot of student organizations [at Ithaca College] have partnerships with local organizations. There are tons of opportunities to really get out there and dive in head first,” he said.

Cornell junior Felix Fernandez-Penny has a different motivation to get off campus. Growing up in Ithaca, he said that there is a distinct separation between being a “Cornellian” and being an “Ithacan.” Coming from both spheres, he often finds himself exploring Ithaca through the different types of dining options and encourages his college friends to head to his favorite sights he grew up with. 

“Cornell has a very discreet, closed campus. It’s important that Cornell students are exposed to what’s going on around them,” the Cornell junior said. “It’s a proponent of exposing yourself to different cultures and seeing what each town has to offer. Ithaca definitely has it’s own culture which is most likely very different from where a lot of Cornell students grew up.”

Fernandez-Penny said he usually recommends to his peers to spend a summer in Ithaca without the stress of schoolwork and to branch out from the Cornell campus. 

“It’s fun town worth exploring. It has a rich culture and grassroots theme that many Cornell students could benefit from,” he said. 

Students who spend the summer in Ithaca, like Ithaca College senior Helen Murphy did this past summer, often see a different side of the area. Murphy said she was able to expand her idea of what options students have for recreation and become more integrated with the town.

“Exploring downtown broadens your horizons. Ithaca is a one-of-a-kind place and being exposed to different types of experiences by integrating more with the community, especially at the collegiate level, is what makes Ithaca a unique place to go to school. Not only are you taking classes but you’re also reaching out and engaging with the local area,” Murphy said. 

As classes begin, McNeish hopes to continue to explore the area especially since he has only one year left at Ithaca College. Because the town and colleges are so influential on each other, he said, it is vital to know what is going on in both areas. 

“We are tucked away on South Hill and there’s a ton that our school offers on campus, but by just staying on the hill we’re not experiencing all Ithaca has to offer,” he said. “Whether it’s different food, concerts, festivals and exposure to different ways of living. These are all just as important of going to school in Ithaca.” §

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