Harford Community College’s Destination Imagination (DI) Team, the Drama Queens, took second place in the DI State Tournament on April 10 and will move on to participate in the highly competitive Global Finals Tournament in July. The Drama Queens team members began participating in the DI program at the elementary school level through Homestead Wakefield Elementary School, and joined the Harford Community College (HCC) program this year after moving to the middle school level. They chose to compete in the Improv Challenge: “Case Closed.” This challenge involves creating an improvisational video presentation that tells the story of a detective and sidekick who team up to solve a mystery using a forensic technique. In addition to researching and practicing skits with random elements, the team practiced solving various Instant Challenges using a list of materials provided by DI to construct solutions to problems and/or create skits based on specific scenarios. All of their team meetings for the season were conducted through MS Teams computer software. They are anxiously looking forward to the new challenges they will face at the Global Finals.
DI is the largest creative problem-solving program in the world for kindergarten through college-aged learners, going strong in 48 states and more than 30 countries. Teams consist of up to seven members and must solve one of seven different Challenges, which they perform in front of appraisers at different level tournaments. Participants are encouraged to have fun, take risks, focus, and frame challenges while incorporating STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) principles, as well as arts and service learning.
“Destination Imagination is nothing short of one of the best team building exercises out there. This program allows people to learn to work as a team to overcome challenges in practical but fun ways,” said Brian Thompson, former DI student participant. Parent Brea Abel said, “Teamwork, problem solving, creativity, competition, empathy, independence, goal setting, task prioritization, focus, responsibility, effective communication . . . all qualities and skills kids get to hone during the DI experience. It’s truly amazing to watch children combine those with science, technology, engineering, art, math and most of all FUN!”
Harford Community College’s DI program began during the 2013-14 season when the College hosted one team. The program grew consistently each year and by the 2019-20 season HCC was proud to host a total of six teams. Due to the impact of COVID-19, the program had to scale back to one team for the 2020-21 season with participation fully online. HCC has hosted a total of 20 teams over the years, and these teams have had an impressive record: 17 teams placed in the Regional Tournament and moved on to compete in the State Tournament; five teams successfully won the State Tournament and moved on to Global Finals; and one team, the HCC university level team which formed from the HCC Engineering Club, took third place at Global Finals! HCC program coordinator Laura Drake said, “While winning is always a welcome end, it is not the program’s ultimate goal. It’s about the journey, about successfully learning new skills, and working as a team to achieve the desired end result.”
Due to the popularity of the program, the College expanded its involvement in January 2015 by offering an Instant Challenge Training Day for all teams in Harford and Cecil Counties. The Instant Challenge Day was very successful and grew from 29 participants in the first year to 103 participants in 2020. Unfortunately, Instant Challenge Day had to be suspended in 2021 due to COVID-19. In 2018 the College began hosting the Regional Tournament in which teams from both Harford and Cecil Counties participated and showcased their challenge solutions for appraisers.
Harford’s program is the only college-based program in the country offering the DI experience for all age levels, from the non-competitive Rising Stars (kindergarten through grade 3) through all competitive levels from grade 4 through the university level. The College was excited to learn that its program may be used as a case study for other colleges wishing to provide the DI experience on their campuses.
Several HCC employees are involved in ensuring the success of this program. Laura Drake, Coordinator for Academic Operations, serves as program coordinator, team manager, co-regional director and member of the State Board of Trustees. Kelly Pulaski, Coordinator for Youth Programs, and Heather Gasswint, Administrative Assistant II, assist with paperwork, advertisements, and hands-on assistance for the teams as well as the Regional Tournament, which was held on campus in March prior to COVID-19. All team managers are community volunteers who are thoroughly vetted through the College Volunteer Program.