CHAMPAIGN — First it was a giant smoothie. Then came 3,463 ears of shucked corn.
This year new students will be welcomed to the University of Illinois with — if all goes well — the world's largest serving of salsa.
Life is a fiesta.
The UI is once again using the occasion of its annual student convocation to build community by setting a world record.
This time the goal is 7,500 pounds of salsa — or at least one more than the current record of 5,868, held by Asociacin de Productores del Tomates de Los Palacios in Spain.
University Housing staff will begin creating the salsa at 5 a.m. Friday, with 7,000 pounds of tomatoes, 600 pounds of onions, 20 pounds of jalapeo peppers, 375 bunches of cilantro and 70 gallons of lime juice.
The salsa will be assembled in front of students at the "Illinois Sights and Sounds" event at Memorial Stadium directly following New Student Convocation, then will be served for dinner later that night.
Why salsa? Organizers wanted something that showcased local produce, especially from the UI's Student Sustainable Farm, said Kirsten Ruby, associate director of housing for communications and marketing.
"It's very popular," she added.
A representative from Guinness World Records will be on hand to certify the results. If the salsa is a record-breaker, Guinness will present a certificate to the UI.
It has become a campus tradition. In 2011, the UI created the World's Largest Smoothie, and in 2012 students broke the record for the greatest number of people simultaneously husking corn.
The UI has since lost the smoothie record, now held by Cabot Creamery Cooperative (400 gallons on May 3, 2013). But the campus remains the corn-husking capital of the world, according to Guinness.
"We'd like this experience to be memorable," Ruby said. "Convocation and Illinois Sights and Sounds is their first big group introduction to the University of Illinois. Having something like this shared experience gives them all a common memory that they can share.
"I love it when I hear someone say, 'Oh, I was the smoothie year,'" she said.
The event helps students connect to campus, and research shows that students who feel connected are more likely to be successful in their studies, Ruby said.
Everything but the lime juice will be from local farms, Ruby said, and most of it will come from the student farm on Lincoln Avenue, south of Windsor Road.
"We'll be providing as much as we can," said farm manager Zack Grant, including 1,000 pounds of tomatoes and most of the peppers and onions.
The tomato harvest was a bit lean this year on the 5-acre vegetable farm, which has supplied produce to University Housing for the past five years, said Grant, a research specialist for the Department of Crop Sciences.
"It's kind of slowed some of the maturity down," Grant said. "We're just going to harvest whatever we can. They have insurance stuff on the side to help them get over the top."
"It'll be pretty amusing to see it all come together," he added.
The salsa record is a popular one and may not last long, Grant said.
"It's been broken two or three times since they decided to do it last year," Grant said, and someone else will likely try to unseat the UI if Friday's attempt is successful.
The housing staff has put together a snazzy trailer about the event, in the style of "The Avengers," ending with, "Salsa 2013: It's gonna be epic."
Attendance isn't mandatory but is "strongly encouraged," with resident advisers walking students to the convocation and then to the stadium afterward, Ruby said.
The UI is expecting 7,200 freshmen on campus this year, up from 6,932 who enrolled in fall 2012. The Office of New Student Programs anticipates about 6,000 students will attend Friday's events.