On the last Thursday in March, the sun rose on the eastern horizon at roughly a quarter past seven. The high ridge line above the East Ogden Bench would cast its continuous shadow on the city for another hour. Daybreak revealed that an overnight dusting of snow had fallen on mountain peaks above Ogden. On the Weber State University campus, almost 3,000 students from around the world were enjoying a splendid Utah morning for the first time.
The occasion for their first trip to Ogden was the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) that WSU was hosting. Students from across the country and five foreign countries came to the WSU campus to share their research and artistic creations. That morning, the visiting students heard from the Nobel Prize winning geneticist Mario Capecchi. On subsequent mornings, the students would learn from the award-winning author Anne Fadiman and the noted ethnobotanist Paul Cox.
The event provided an opportunity to demonstrate that WSU is an outstanding university, and it was also a great opportunity to showcase Ogden.
Of those participating in the conference, the vast majority had never been to Ogden, so it is interesting to hear their impressions of the city.
As college students, the conference goers were experienced users of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other forms of social media. For this reason, it is easy to go online and find their candid and unexpurgated impressions of Ogden.
So, what was the consensus opinion of the city? The visitors were impressed.
A student from the University of Memphis summed up his impressions by saying, "I had an amazing time in Utah. One of the best experiences of my life. Thanks for making a southerner feel at home."
Downtown Ogden's dining establishments received high marks. Slackwater Pub and Pizza got rave reviews. A group of students from Lancashire, England described Brewskis as "a lovely lively place to talk to American people."
Several foreign visitors felt compelled to make the trek to downtown Ogden's Walmart store which they described as "a key part of American culture."
Ogden's trails and mountains also garnered the attention of the students.
Several students took the initiative to hike up Waterfall Canyon and posted their photos and videos online. One participant said: "You can't wake up to the Rocky Mountains every day in New Hampshire." A student from Detroit summed it up by saying: "The mountains are the coolest thing. We don't have anything like that."
The influence of the conference was apparent to Ogden's business community. Virtually every hotel room was filled. A long-time 25th Street waitress remarked that she had not seen this much business since the start of the recession.
The Standard-Examiner reported that the NCUR event was the largest convention to ever be hosted in Ogden. The economic impact of the conference was estimated to exceed $2.6 million. Yet, the real impact of the conference may last for decades.
The students who participated in the conference are both talented and have a strong desire for achievement. Many will go on to be teachers, doctors, and engineers. A significant number will go to graduate school and become college professors. When the students ultimately graduate and begin their careers, more than a few will consider seeking employment in Northern Utah because of their positive impression of with Ogden. It is likely that one or two or more will become faculty members at WSU.
I want to express my gratitude to the citizens of Ogden for making a great impression.
I also need to thank the entire WSU community for the work they put in to make the NCUR event a success. Dr. John Cavitt, Director of WSU's Undergraduate Research Program, Dr. Ryan Thomas, Associate Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Studies, and Amy Douangdara the Office of Undergraduate Research deserve special recognition for their efforts.