AACC on a 'scavenger' hunt

The Baltimore Sun

A 2000 graduate of Anne Arundel Community College Demetria Brown-Sugar Stallings still keeps in touch with many of her classmates.

Now she's about to find more of them.

The Severn resident recently signed on to lead a team in an unusual scavenger hunt -- a hunt for alumni. Lured by a $500 first price, at least five teams have accepted the challenge to find the biggest number. The winner will be announced Dec. 1.

The idea for the scavenger hunt began with the recognition that community colleges, like their four-year counterparts, benefit when they continue their relationships with former students.

"The alumni scavenger hunt is one of our strategies for trying to reach many of our alumni that we lose touch with," said Stacey Heckel, director of development and executive director of the AACC Foundation.

Heckel noted that community college students are likely to keep returning throughout their career.

"Unlike a four-year institution, where people can come and then they leave, and then there are those heartstrings that bind, a community college can keep on giving," Heckel said.

Though the college, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary, keeps records of graduates, the older records are on microfiche, Heckel said. She added that students who take a continuing education course or who don't graduate are difficult to track down. And of course, many students change their names or move.

That's where the scavenger hunt comes in.

"This is kind of a fun way for people to come back on campus and reconnect with us," Heckel said.

The original scavenger-hunt plan was to have an on-campus hunt, which was scheduled for Oct. 7, said college spokeswoman Susan Gross. Whoever brought the most alumni would win.

But so many people contacted the college to say they weren't available that day, officials decided to change the rules.

The new scavenger hunt takes place in cyberspace, with each team working to get as many people as possible to sign in online. To qualify, they have to say what courses they took and in what years, at least to the best of their recollection.

"We thought, we really have the capability to do sort of a virtual thing," Gross said. "That's sort of the wave of the future."

The Internet is playing a key role in the alumni search. Another team leader, 2000 AACC graduate Desiree Dunning of Glen Burnie, said she's been relying on e-mails and MySpace to find alumni.

Dunning, a federal contractor supporting the Navy, said she still visits the campus when she can and keeps in touch with professors and classmates.

"I'm going to see what happens," she said of her hunt for other former AACC students. "However many I find, that's good enough for me, but I'm not going to stop until it's done."

The number of alumni is high. Last year, close to 55,000 people took courses at the college, Gross said. "There aren't that many people in the county who don't qualify."

Stallings believes she has a good chance of winning because she is in touch with many alumni. "I was really active when I was at AACC," she said. "I had a lot of people's e-mails, so I sent a mass e-mail."

Stallings, who earned two degrees in business management, also graduated from a four-year college with degrees in criminal justice and political science, and now has a job helping children with special needs. She said she's happy to do her part to spread the word about AACC.

"I recommend it to anybody," she said. "I think, personally, it's actually better than a four-year."

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