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Deconstructing Maryland’s Open House

As UMD Celebrates 25 Years of Maryland Day, We Share Behind-the-Scenes Stories and Stats

By Annie Krakower

Maryland Day tents on McKeldin Mall surrounded by red and yellow illustrations of sun, lightbulb, academic building and butterfly

Since 1999, Maryland Day, UMD’s one-day campuswide open house, has grown into a mix of eclectic entertainment and enrichment that regularly draws more than 80,000 visitors to 300-plus events.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

A stroll through campus on the last Saturday in April is like experiencing a university turned inside out. All the gooey and fizzy experiments, soaring artistic excursions and amusing oddities of academic life—ready to make friends with a giant bug?—are on display in a sea of tents around McKeldin Mall and elsewhere, rather than tucked away in labs or classrooms.

In one corner of campus, you can watch engineers spark—and then extinguish—a raging fire tornado, while in others, you can learn the steps of a folk dance, build a DIY indoor air filter or discover how autonomous drones navigate the world.

Peppy drumbeats and horn swells from the marching band provide a spirited soundtrack, and homemade liquid nitrogen ice cream and international cuisine cooked right before your eyes tempt your taste buds. Lines wind through this temporary campus carnival, with eager guests queuing for swag ranging from T-shirts to toy turtles to tomato plants.

This is Maryland Day, and since 1999 the one-day campuswide open house has grown into a mix of eclectic entertainment and enrichment that regularly draws more than 80,000 visitors to 300-plus events.

In his 1999 inauguration speech, former University of Maryland President C.D. “Dan” Mote, Jr. outlined this vision for “one of the biggest rituals in the history of the university.” He later recalled his thinking then: “We’re the flagship university of the state of Maryland. How do you connect if you don’t show the public what you are, who you are, what life here is like?”

Some 3,000 volunteers rolled up their sleeves that first year to prep campus for guests who showed up to “explore our world,” as the inaugural theme instructed, through activities like musical performances, bounce houses and a football scrimmage.

To celebrate 25 years of this Maryland merriment, we’re unwrapping the tradition, revealing backstories, secrets, stats and memories from longtime volunteers and other participants about the big day.

giant cake with UMD seal and "150th" written in icing

The university’s 150th anniversary called for a big celebration: a strawberry shortcake to feed 50,000 Maryland Day visitors. The baking extravaganza began in January, with staff cooking up sections that could serve 90-100 people each, adding strawberry filling, ladling on sauce and freezing the pieces in “every freezer we had” on campus, said Joe Mullineaux, interim director of Dining Services and a Maryland Day volunteer since year one. To top it off, UMD’s executive pastry chef crafted a 12-foot chocolate university seal. The last slice was served just before 4 p.m., and volunteers were “covered from head to toe in vanilla frosting and strawberry—hair, shoes, clothes, everything,” Mullineaux recalls.

red, yellow, black and white cupcakes forming UMD seal, with volunteers waving and wearing aprons

The cake idea was so sweet that Dining Services outdid itself a couple years later to commemorate the 10th Maryland Day: Instead of one giant treat, the staff made 54,000 little ones. Around 100 volunteers stayed up the night before to arrange colored cupcakes to form the UMD seal, earning shirts with “Maryland Day” written in cupcakes as a reward. College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences Director of Operations Gene Ferrick recalls crashing in his office afterward to be ready for Maryland Day in the morning—and he still has the tee.

flags from Maryland and different countries

Flags on display each year on Hornbake Plaza, representing countries, U.S. territories and commonwealths, and Maryland’s own distinctive banner.

fire tornado

2,000K AT 140MPH
The temperature in Kelvin (a whopping 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit) and rotational speed of fire tornadoes like the one created each Maryland Day by the Department of Fire Protection Engineering in a room with special swirling air currents.

woman and young child look as man holds tarantula

The names of the Chilean rose tarantula, vinegarroon and Vietnamese walking stick that have regularly appeared at the popular insect petting zoo. UMD presidents, spouses and kids have held lady beetles, eaten cicadas or searched for the queen honeybee at the event, said Mike Raupp, professor emeritus of entomology known as “The Bug Guy.” Rosie and Twiggy have even gotten up close and personal with Dr. Oz and Connie Chung, he said. And don’t worry—the beloved bugs have never made a break for it or taken a bite out of an unsuspecting guest.

Lisa Church and Torrey Smith

Former star Terp and NFL wide receiver Torrey Smith ’10 regularly showed off his wheels on the football field, but on Maryland Day 2013, UMD Police Department Executive Assistant Lisa Church provided his ride. Smith, who was on campus to assist with a youth football skills event, needed to get from the Xfinity Center to the Stamp Student Union, and Church happened to be there with her golf cart. “I freaked out,” she said. “I am a huge Maryland fan, but also a very huge Torrey Smith fan.” The pair, along with Smith’s sisters, stopped at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Ag Day, grabbed some Panda Express and high-fived those who recognized him along the way. “It was my favorite day of work ever,” Church said.

Anne Turkos poses with crocheted turtle bookmarks

Turtle bookmarks crocheted by University Archivist Emerita Anne Turkos to distribute at Maryland Day 2023. Guests can pick one as a keepsake for visiting University Archives’ taxidermized diamondback terrapin, the model for the bronze Testudo statues. Since the inaugural event, she’s stitched an estimated 15,000 crafty critters. COVID cancellations allowed her to stockpile this year’s meaningful amount, matching the year UMD was chartered.

scoop of ice cream in a cup with fudge and sprinkles

Maryland Day has frequently provided the stage for the Maryland Dairy to debut its newest creations. UMD presidents often provide the ice cream inspiration, like Mocha Latte Mote to honor Mote’s 2010 retirement, VanniLoh Mango to celebrate Wallace D. Loh then taking the helm, and TerraPines and Pralines to mark President Darryll J. Pines’ first in-person Maryland Day last year. To commemorate 25 years of Maryland Day, the Dairy revamped and resurfaced one particularly delectable concoction, Too Good, originally made in 2017 in honor of UMD becoming the nation’s first Do Good Campus. The Too Good Silver Edition, available only on this milestone Maryland Day, features 150-year-old Grand Marnier, chocolate imported from South America and France, and a mocha tiramisu swirl with Ethiopian coffee beans.

Besides handling signs, tents and other logistics, Facilities Management faced a doozy of an obstacle the day before Maryland Day 2011. A blocked pipe caused sewage to flood McKeldin Mall, sending staff scrambling to install fences, vacuum up the mess and disinfect the area. “Whoever was available, we would get out there and start cleaning,” said Audrey A. Stewart, an FM coordinator and Maryland Day volunteer since the beginning. The main tent and a few smaller tents had to be moved, but otherwise, the show went on for the nearly 97,000 guests.

Testudo bobblehead

Testudo bobbleheads handed out during Maryland Day 2022. The free mini mascots went fast, but guests could still get their hands on one if they dug into their pockets: The collectibles quickly showed up on eBay, selling for $40 or more.

kids fish floating turtles out of ODK Fountain with nets

Floating toy turtles tossed into the ODK Fountain each Maryland Day for kids to fish out.

student controls underwater robot in pool

On Maryland Day 2022, the student team Robotics @ Maryland hoped to make a splash with its underwater bot, Qubo. But first, members spent two all-nighters repairing and revamping their hand-me-down submarine, one with a wild network of sensors, computers and devices to power eight thrusters. “We finished an hour before guests began arriving—it was that close,” said Vice President Dillon Capalongo ’24. Qubo went on to participate in that summer’s international RoboSub competition, making it to the semifinals.

Jeff Kinney poses with "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" book and fans

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books author and illustrator Jeff Kinney ’93 signed at Maryland Day 2011. The proud Terp, who as a student created the “Igdoof” comic strip in The Diamondback, will return this year for the unveiling of the new Greg Heffley statue in Stamp.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.