Students Declan Gruber and Seiko Shastri at Turtle Park, one of St. Louis’ many unique attractions. Joe Angeles/WUSTL Photos
The world-class faculty. The rigorous academics. The sushi.
Students choose Washington University in St. Louis for many reasons. Rarely is the location one of them. But it should be, insists junior Seiko Shastri.
“I am constantly finding these hidden gems here,” said Shastri, who is studying international and area studies and Spanish, both in Arts & Sciences. “I chose Washington University for its culture, not for St. Louis, but there is a lot to discover here.”
More tham 90 percent of university undergraduates come from out of state. To help them find their way through the Gateway City, WUSTL’s Community Service Office has launched My St. Louis, a website devoted to connecting university students to St. Louis’ vibrant neighborhoods, culture and history.
The site links to neighborhood, entertainment and restaurant guides, event calendars, influential blogs and local media outlets as well as community service opportunities and university programs that help students explore St. Louis.
My St. Louis also includes information about the region’s demographics, history, transportation and governments. Updated Twitter and Facebook feeds will keep readers aware of local events and issues.
Shastri and junior Declan Gruber curated much of the site’s content. They want My St. Louis to address the sort of questions they had as incoming students: Who serves a good curry? How do I get around town? And what exactly is provel?
“When I came here, I had absolutely no idea where to start,” said Shastri, of Moorhead, Minn. “I only found out about things if a friend or an upperclassman paved the way. I didn’t even know how to start asking questions. You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Shastri now is a regular at Nepali restaurant Everest in the Grove neighborhood and attends the city’s many free festivals. Gruber, who is from Milwaukee, loves baseball at Busch Stadium and the French architecture in the historic Soulard neighborhood. Both indulge in the sublime joy that is the Crown Candy milkshake.
But Shastri and Gruber are more than tourists; they are citizens. Gruber, who is studying physics and Spanish, both in Arts & Sciences, volunteers at Ford Elementary School in St. Louis; Shastri works for a leading civic organization, Focus St. Louis, on its youth leadership initiative.
St. Louis, they have found, boasts a proud, if complicated, past and a bright, if challenging, future. Its once-sleepy downtown is now alive with new restaurants, clubs and attractions. Biotech startups and microbreweries seem to open at the same rapid clip. An influx of young people has moved into the city’s new lofts and old Victorian homes. Still, St. Louis struggles with economic, racial and educational inequality. Shastri doesn’t claim to have the answers, but she does possess an awareness.
“Knowing the beat of the city — where to go, what the issues are, what people care about is important,” Shastri said.
Stephanie Kurtzman, director of the Community Service Office and associate director of the Gephardt Institute for Public Service, calls that being a good neighbor. One section of My St. Louis is devoted to campus resources that connect students to the surrounding community. Programs range from St. Louis by the Dozen to CarShare to community service initiatives like Each One Teach One.
“Hopefully My St. Louis will pique readers’ curiosity about St. Louis,” said Kurtzman. “This is a great place to learn about American cities — the social issues, possible solutions, and what makes communities tick.”
Eventually, My St. Louis will include profiles of students who are experts in various aspects of St. Louis. It also will invite reader comments. The idea, Gruber said, is to seamlessly merge the St. Louis and Washington University experiences.
“As this site becomes used more and more, people will leave behind where they’ve been,” Gruber said. “It will start to have a real Washington University voice, where people can leave trails for people to follow. People may not think they have time to go off-campus, but this is really part of your education, too.”
Seiko Shastri’s recommendations for fun in St. Louis
You can climb over gigantic sculptures of turtles at Turtle Park, a quick walk from the St. Louis Zoo.
The Fox Theatre has special $20 rush tickets for students before some of its events – make sure to keep an eye out for when they have award-winning Broadway performances.
Once it starts getting colder, the Steinberg Skating Rink in Forest Park is a great place to go ice skating with friends.
Seamus McDaniel’s in Dogtown has some really delicious burgers.
Nothing is better than a late-night run to John Donut for a sugar boost!
Declan Gruber’s 5 recommendations for fun in St. Louis
You can swim in the fountains and walk into a giant head in Citygarden.
You can walk around with the penguins at the St Louis Zoo.
There are free concerts every Wednesday night in the summer at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Nothing beats a chocolate-banana Crown Candy milkshake.
You haven’t truly experienced St Louis until you’ve been to a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium.