Western's First Night Out event wins national award from CASE

Held last fall, the event involved more than 1,500 WWU students and was co-sponsored by the City of Bellingham and Downtown Bellingham partnership

Western's First Night Out event, held for the first time last fall at the start of the academic year, recently won a national award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). 

First Night Out is a collaboration between Western, the City of Bellingham, and the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, and is designed to link Western's students - especially those who are newest to campus - with Bellingham's vibrant downtown. More than 1,500 students participated last year, marching downtown to participate in a fun night of activities and events.

The nomination explained why FNO was such as success:

"Student retention thrives on community connection. Likewise, universities flourish when they actively engage with their surrounding communities. With these dual objectives in mind, Western Washington University (WWU) introduced Western Wednesday: First Night Out (FNO) in fall 2023. In collaboration with the Downtown Bellingham Partnership and the City of Bellingham, FNO debuted as a vibrant celebration of community life in Bellingham. 

Over 1,500 students, led by their student body president, athletics teams, and a lively student band, made the journey from campus to downtown Bellingham. Downtown came alive with music, complimentary food, activities, and exclusive discounts at 50 local businesses. The festivities, culminating in a dynamic music festival, encouraged students to explore their community, injecting vitality into the downtown scene. While FNO marked the students' first night out on the town, the Western Wednesday benefits extend the connection throughout the year. Over 70 businesses now offer discounts to anyone with a WWU ID. This partnership fosters mutual support: The community welcomes students with open arms and discounts, while the university encourages its members to explore downtown, helping the local economy."

The CASE contest judges said that FNO was "A good model of community/institution engagement and connection that used resources wisely. Western Wednesday holds promise as a cornerstone tradition for other institutions to replicate."

Chris Roselli, Western's director of Community Relations, said he was proud of the recognition for the event because it highlighted the importance of the collaboration between its partners.

"We know our students have a more valuable Western experience when they are linked to our community. We also know our locally-owned downtown businesses are instrumental in developing that connection and benefit from Western’s economic impact. First Night Out is simply a win-win for everyone," he said. "The award is also special because it wasn't just for our region, but it was a national award, and the competition was against colleges and universities from across the country."

Bellingham Mayor Kim Lund was equally enthusiastic about the benefits of the event.

"'First Night Out' is a joy for the City of Bellingham. We love to spotlight our amazing downtown and welcome so many enthusiastic students back for another great year! " Lund said.

WWU alumna Nathalie Wagler, the Community Engagement manager for the Downtown Bellingham partnership, said the interaction with the students wasn't designed to last just one night - it was an invitation for them to engage with the downtown from that night forward.

"This event is a treasure to vital aspects of our downtown - businesses, residents, visitors, and of course, students - collectively contributing to a truly vibrant and thriving community. First Night Out isn't just a stand-alone event, it's also an invitation for students to come back every week to experience the Western Wednesday program and discover their communities within our diverse Downtown neighborhood. We look forward to bringing this event back for years to come!" Wagler said.

Look for First Night Again next fall!