ARNOLD — In the mid-1970s, Rose Rivera was among those asking a big question about Anne Arundel Community College.
“Why can’t the college be more than just a stepping stone?”
The college was little more than a dozen years old at the time as Rivera, who later became an assistant dean, pushed for health professions programs.
On Saturday, the community college will officially celebrate the 50th anniversary of its humble beginnings as an evening college temporarily housed in Severna Park High School.
Over the past half-century, the college has grown into a multi-building campus on what once was an Arnold farm, even adding satellite campuses and overflow parking to keep up with growing demand.
The college offers training in the fast-growing fields of health care and cybersecurity and has become a leading institution in the state for meeting workforce demand, according to the state association of community colleges.
“It proves itself very valuable,” said Tom Florestano, former president of AACC. “What happened in this state is four-year colleges had really increased their admissions standards and the college was able to get these kids, dust them off and get them ready and in a time of high unemployment, get them ready for the labor market.”
The college was founded in 1961. At the time, community colleges were popping up across the country with the goal of making higher education more accessible, said Jan Pumphrey, one of the first students at the college and the school’s unofficial historian. She began taking classes as an 18-year-old at the college in its early years and ended up working there for more than 37 years.
She remembers the college filling a void during a much different time.
“In the ’60s when we had a lot of one-car households, a lot of blue collars and a lot of kids graduated high school with good grades and not enough money to go away to college. This gave them a place,” Pumphrey said.
At that time, students could take a semester worth of courses for $100.
The college has helped students adapt to the evolution of technology from typewriters and telephone lines to cellphones and cybersecurity. AACC recently started construction of a new library to feature more computers with Internet access, Pumphrey said.
Another of the first students to attend the college, Dr. Joe Lamp, said he attended Severna Park High School in the 1960s, when the college shared the same building.
“It was seamless. You knew the college was there … but there weren’t ever any problems,” Lamp said. “In fact, I’d venture to say many students probably didn’t know it existed.”
He began attending the college in 1967 when it first opened on the Arnold campus. He was president of the Honor Society and helped create the first tutoring service. He went off to pursue other degrees after his time there, but returned as a speech professor and never left because he loved what he was doing, he said.
In his time, he said he has seen many changes in the world and the college’s response to them.
In the 1990s he began teaching a class in unconventional warfare, the results of one of his research hobbies.
“You couldn’t pay a kid to take that course in the 1990s.”
But after the terrorist attacks in 2001, he said, demand skyrocketed and his course eventually became a required course in the Homeland Security program.
Lamp said there is a downside to all that growth.
“It lost some of its charm for those who knew what it was,” Lamp said. “It hasn’t lost anything for those who weren’t here to remember that. In fact it has more opportunity than ever before. But it was a time when everyone knew your name.”
Rivera said the health professions program grew as need did. She and others at the college initially began pushing for a nursing assistant program to complement its already growing nursing program. At the time, the world was still in the midst of economic turmoil and there was resistance about women entering certain professions.
In time, the health professions department grew to include formal training for paramedics after receiving a request and some guidance from the county Fire Department, Rivera said. Later came requests to offer training for radiological assistant jobs, training for drawing blood, training in massage therapy, physical therapy assisting and pharmacy assisting.
Rivera became the coordinator of a program that didn’t even have learning objectives yet and was feeling her way forward.
“Little by little, we changed the curriculum,” Rivera said. “These are all one-year certificate programs and two-year programs and they had to start somewhere. From all these little beginnings and not-so-little beginnings, I think we have one of the best community colleges.”
These sort of programs are playing a crucial role in today’s fast-growing world of health care, but it wasn’t always that way.
“When there was a nursing shortage, all of a sudden we were popular. When there wasn’t a nursing shortage, it dropped off,” Rivera said.
However, she said, “I don’t think health care is going to go out again.”
One of the AACC students who’s counting on that, Amanda Beall, said she dreams of being a nurse, the kind who gets the worst trauma cases to burst into the emergency room.
“I like gore,” she said.
The Odenton resident’s plan is to finish the nursing program at AACC before transferring to Towson University.
Like many students born decades after the establishment of AACC, Beall didn’t realize the college was approaching the 50-year milestone. She said it never occurred to her what her plan might have been had the community college not been around as an option to get early training and keep costs down.
That was ultimately the goal of the creators of the college – to make those opportunities accessible to generations of students, Pumphrey said.
“It’s been an asset to the county,” Pumphrey said.