UM open house shows off what school has to offer

University holds event to draw new students, build links to community

April 28, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

It was a rare sight, something almost out of The Twilight Zone: thousands of college kids up and active before noon on a Saturday.

"I've never seen the campus looking like this on a weekend morning," said Heather Dvoskin, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Maryland, College Park. "And I'll probably never see it like this again."

Dvoskin and Wendy Sabow arrived at 9 a.m. to organize education booths they were staffing at the school's Maryland Day open house, which was yesterday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The pair belonged to a crew of about 5,800 people, all working to draw new students and improve community relations.

"The focus on Maryland is very high this year because of the athletic success," said university President C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr. "But there are other reasons to come to Maryland, like the academic [reputation]," Mote said.

There are 61 programs on campus that enjoy top-25 national ranking, and the faculty includes several Pulitzer Prize winners and a Nobel laureate, school officials said.

Mote expected the open house, in its fourth year, to show the sides of the college people might not normally see or expect. To that end, more than 320 department-sponsored events, classes and displays spread over the campus' 1,500 acres.

Among the events were lessons on hip-hop dancing and resume writing; a West African drumming show; a chance to meet with Islamic students; and lectures on UFOs, humor in academia and garden pests.

"[Maryland Day] gives people a chance to see what we're up to," Mote said, "and also build connections with the residents, alumni, high school students, businesses and social services."

And connections with the state legislature.

Mote's biggest goal in organizing Maryland Day is to impress enough people and draw enough attention to increase the school's budget allowance.

60,000 visitors

More than 60,000 people had shown up by 4 p.m. Campus officials expected the final count to equal or exceed last year's 66,000.

Some were local alumni, with young children in tow, enjoying the day, but others were prospective students and their parents, such as David Horn and his children, 14-year-old Gillian and 17-year-old Derek.

"I'm trying to expose my kids to what the college has to offer," said Horn, who lives in Ellicott City. He graduated from UM in 1979 and hopes his son will follow in his footsteps.

The strategy worked for Pat and Vernon Ambush from Cheverly. They attended Maryland Day two years ago with their daughter Shannon, who's now a freshman on campus.

"It gave her a better perspective on what the school is about," Pat Ambush said.

A different agenda

Michael Thompson had a different agenda. The 21-year-old is part of the university's Gymkana Troupe, an exhibition gymnastics team that travels to middle and high schools giving two-hour shows and lecturing on healthy lifestyles. The 56 members of the troupe have agreed to remain drug- and alcohol-free during the school year.

For the day, the group members had a trampoline set up in the middle of the school's grassy McKeldin Mall and were busy contorting themselves into awkward positions.

"[Drinking] is a choice," said Thompson, who said his troupe's presence showed that not all college kids choose to be weekend bingers.

"We're trying to get away from a party-school stigma," said Sabow, 19. "Maryland Day focuses on academics and everything else there is here."

The school spent $200,000 setting up the open house, which Mote said was a worthwhile investment if the day made a difference in the perception of the college.

"The major issue is creating an understanding of how higher education is so critical to the future of the state as we move away from an old smoke-stack economy to a technology-based, highly skilled economy," Mote said. "The state cannot succeed if it doesn't come to recognize and appreciate that."

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