Taneesh Sra didn’t know much about Salem when she moved here from California.
She thought it was a small town. She assumed there wouldn’t be much to do. But after taking the first-year College Colloquium titled, “Beyond ‘the Bubble’: Explore Salem,” she learned Salem has a lot more to offer than she anticipated.
“The people are great here, and I love it,” Sra ’16 says. “This has definitely become my new home away from home.”
Heidi Grew, a Willamette University art professor, taught the course — inspired by her own undergraduate years at the University of Illinois. During a recent visit to her alma mater with friends, she says she discovered lush parks and local lore she had somehow missed as a student.
Through the colloquium — a discussion-based course required for first-year students — Grew hoped her students would become directly engaged with their community while developing their reading, writing and critical thinking skills.
“I believe they learned that this community has a lot to teach them,” she says. “They can tap into Salem over the next four years to access a myriad of opportunities, cultural events, great coffee and study spots, nature outings, local eateries and markets, gorgeous historic structures, and more.”
As a result of their explorations, Brenna Smelt ’16 of Tacoma, Wash. discovered Twinsies, a new cupcake and coffee shop near campus. Melvin Miyashiro ’16 found Fitts Seafood, which reminds him of the fish markets in his hometown of Honolulu.
And Sra stumbled upon the historic Elsinore Theatre, where she saw a movie about skiing and listened to a guest speaker talk about the making of the film.
“It’s not your average theatre,” Sra says. “The audience got really involved in the movie. People cheered. I will definitely go there again.”
Through the class, Smelt developed a deep appreciation for the cupcake shop, Twinsies. Once she saw the fish tank and soda tables inside, she says she knew she had found her place.
“I just love cupcakes. They are your own personal treat, and you don’t have to share them with anyone,” she says, adding that Grew’s course reintroduced her to the thrill of discovery. “I’m really glad I took the colloquium. It showed me where to go and it helped me get to know Salem.”
Miyashiro agrees, saying Fitts Seafood, founded in 1901, is his favorite find.
“I wanted to check this place out, and I’m glad that I did,” he says. “When you walk inside, the first thing you smell is salt water and fresh fish. Three fishmongers were on duty, and they all jumped up to help me. I thought, ‘wow, this place is really cool.’”
Through Grew’s class, Miyashiro says he was exposed to everything from eateries to historical landmarks — most within walking distance of campus.
“You have to get out of your dorm room and explore,” he says. “There’s a lot to do in Salem, you just have to know where to look.”
To read about the places students discovered in Salem, check out the Beyond the Bubble class blog.