Students, faculty and staff from Hays’ three higher education institutions mingled with business and community members Thursday in the fourth annal Core2Campus.

The evening began with a march led by the Fort Hays State University band from the university up Eighth Street to downtown. The march symbolizes the ties between the university and Hays, said FHSU President Mirta Martin in a brief welcome to the crowd.

“We are one family; we will always be one family,” she said.

“I think this is a great event to help us come together,” said Amele Houmakey, an FHSU accounting major from Togo. “I think Fort Hays State really does its best to get international students involved in the community.”

Lei Lei Bao, an MBA student at FHSU, agreed. She will graduate in December and said she wished she had attended the event last year.

“I feel the community pays attention to the students and gives us these opportunities to get to know it better,” she said.

North Central Kansas Technical College President Eric Burks encouraged students to get involved with the community.

NCK Tech automotive students Dylan Schmitt, Trevor Sutter and Nick Dreiling, all of Hays, and Ragen Struckhoff, Stockton, enjoyed their meal while sitting on the curb of Main Street near Union Pacific Park. The street had been blocked off through much of downtown for the event.

“It’s pretty cool being part of the community and just interacting with new people,” Struckhoff said.

“I love the fact you’re all here in the same realm of life,” said Len Melvin, marketing director and one of the owners of Hays Academy of Hair Design.

Melvin noted the academy has ties to each of the institutions in Hays, with three of the four owners being graduates of the academy, FHSU and NCK Tech.

Among the academy’s students at the event were Dana Magnani, Bird City, Raeanna Sturdevant, Norton, and Kelly Lamb, Winona. They said Core 2 Campus introduced them to some businesses they weren’t familiar with.

“They have a lot of cool clothes that are reasonably priced for people in college,” Sturdevant said.

“It’s a really good opportunity for the students to get out and really discover what Hays is,” Lamb said.

After the welcome, Hannah Norris and her band played while students got in line for a free barbecue meal, followed their maps to downtown businesses to collect tickets that would later be used in prize drawings or visited booths from other Hays businesses and organizations.

A new feature to the event was a search for a gold brick, worth a $500 cash prize. It was found quickly after the first clue revealed on social media led Michael Turner to City Hall.