Web Exclusive: AACC grads take look back on college years


Photo courtesy of Brian Crecente

Journalist Brian Crecente, who founded the online news site Kotaku and co-founded Polygon, attended AACC from 1988-91.

Sam Gauntt, Managing Editor

AACC alumni range from high-level journalists and stunt performers to state officials and government whistleblowers.

Five of these notable alumni spoke to the student newspaper about their college years and their lives since for a Campus Current “Web Exclusive.” 

‘If it weren’t for AACC, I wouldn’t be a journalist’

Photo courtesy of Brian Crecente

Brian Crecente, founder of the online gaming publication Kotaku and co-founder of the site Polygon, said he felt the college had a “really tight-knit community.”

“I absolutely loved going there,” Crecente, who attended the college from 1988 to 1991, said. “My time there really helped me figure out what it was I wanted to do with my life, which was amazing. … I think putting yourself out there and being directly involved in the college really helps to shape the experience and makes it feel like you’re part of a community. If I had just been attending and going home, I wouldn’t have felt that way.”

Crecente went on to graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1995 with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and English. 

During his time at AACC, Crecente sold ads for Campus Crier, which is what the student newspaper was called then. He also edited the student literary journal Amaranth and served in student government. 

“I felt like I had good instructors,” Crecente noted. “I knew a lot of the people who helped run the college. And, you know, the advisers that helped with the newspaper and the magazine were both amazing. So yeah, it was a completely positive experience for me.”

Crecente said his high school experience, however, was “terrible.”

“I … really didn’t like high school at all. But in college at AACC, I was one year voted winter carnival king. … Which was pretty, pretty amazing.”

After graduating from the University of Maryland, Crecente worked for three newspapers, the Albany Democrat Herald, the Belleville News-Democrat and the Fort Worth Star Telegram, as part of a fellowship program. 

He later went to work as a daily crime reporter for newspapers such as the Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Palm Beach Post and the Rocky Mountain News for approximately 15 years before switching to game journalism. 

“Over my career as a police reporter I’ve interviewed two serial killers, one of which confessed to some murders that police didn’t know about, I’ve trained with SWAT, I broke a story on dogfighting that led to one of the biggest busts in Florida,” Crecente said. “I’ve done all kinds of things and witnessed [all kinds of things]. I spent the day flying with helicopter ambulances. … I spent a whole summer covering wildfires in Colorado when the state was basically on fire … and I got certified as a firefighter so I could basically be in the thick of it with them.”

Crecente said while working as a reporter for The Palm Beach Post, he helped the state-wide vote recount in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. 

He also worked as the video games editor for Rolling Stone and Variety. 

“If it weren’t for AACC, I wouldn’t be a journalist,” Crecente said. “I don’t think I would have made that decision. So going to a two-year college, even though it took me three years … created the sort of environment that made me feel comfortable enough to change majors, and to test out those majors and to see if this is something else actually I want to do and to actually try doing it.”

He is now a consultant, and has worked with companies such as The Washington Post, The LEGO Group and Tencent. 

Crecente lives in New York state with his family. 

He said his son is attending a community college as well. 

“I think community colleges are amazing,” Crecente added. “I think more people are waking up to that but I think that they still don’t get the respect they deserve. And I think AACC is one of the better community colleges out there and absolutely foundational to where I am today.”

‘Find your own way’

Photo courtesy of Brad Dress

“AACC in general was a very welcoming atmosphere [and] a good place to start,” defense reporter for The Hill, an online and print political newspaper based in Washington, D.C., Brad Dress, who studied at AACC from 2016-17, said.

Dress said his favorite memories of the college were hanging out with his friends on campus and working with Campus Current as associate editor. 

Dress transferred from AACC to the University of Maryland, College Park, where he graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. 

Dress said he covers multiple subjects for The Hill. 

“Mainly what I’m doing now is covering the war in Ukraine,” Dress said in December. “Also, if there’s other international issues [or] anything the Defense Department is doing.”

“I used to hang out with all my friends at the gazebo,” Dress added. “That was our spot. I loved being there. It was a great place to get started.”

Dress said managing a work-life balance in journalism can be tough. 

“Journalism is a pretty demanding career, especially with the 24-hour news cycle,” Dress said. “There’s tons of stuff going on all the time. And we often work much later than we should at The HIll, and I’m sure other papers as well. I love it, but I also just love living life, too.” 

“I do a lot of mindful activities now,” he said. “Meditation and taking walks in the park. That stuff really helps kind of just settle my mind down and relax. You know, kind of separate from work. So I definitely try to spend as much time as I can with myself or with friends and family on the weekends.”

Dress gave his advice to students: “Get involved locally, try to talk to your professors. … Don’t feel pressured to do anything. Find your own way.”

Print journalism can still be a viable job for those who are interested in that part of the industry, Dress said. But he added that digital journalism will be the future. 

“Digital is definitely where the future of journalism is,” Dress noted. “It remains to be seen exactly how local papers are going to fit into that section in the future. Social media has completely changed the landscape as well.

‘I made a lot of friends because I wasn’t afraid to be me

Photo courtesy of Dominique C. Barrett

Producer and actor Dominique C. Barrett, known online as KingVader, said his favorite memory of AACC was filming a viral bottle-flipping video in the Truxal Library. 

“It just felt so short during the day that we filmed it,” Barrett, who studied film at AACC from 2016-18, said. “But, like, the viral success of it, you know, it just felt everlasting and I just didn’t know that that was even possible at the time. … I was just kind of confused, but also excited, like, ‘Wow, okay, I want to push myself to do something even cooler and see how people respond to that.’ And that’s kind of like the attitude that I adopted moving forward.”

“I just did not know that that video was going to go as viral as it did, but whenever I think of AACC, that’s like the first thing that comes to mind,” Barrett noted. 

Today, Barrett is 25 and lives in California working as a filmmaker, producer and actor.

He was born in Chicago and moved to Maryland when he was 7 years old.

On his YouTube channel, KingVader, Barrett has accumulated more than 309 million views over 97 videos.

Barrett has more than 5.3 million followers across his social media platforms, and has worked with companies such as Google, Comedy Central, Crunchyroll and Netflix. 

Barrett said he made friends at AACC while shooting comedy skits on campus. 

He said he shot many of his skits on the quad on the Arnold campus. 

“So it was cool meeting a lot of people because, like, people would be walking to classes, and they would just see me and some friends with cameras, and we’re just filming stuff,” Barrett said. “And you know, they’d watch or they’d walk by. … I made a lot of friends because I wasn’t afraid to be me or do something that brought me love and  brought me joy. So I felt like the people that I attracted were kind of people who were trying to find that in themselves.”

He said the project he is most proud of is his self-made horror film, “Don’t Disrespect Halloween Pt. 5,” released on YouTube. 

Working with Neftlix, Barrett produced and released a mini-series on YouTube titled “Netflix Dreams,” which contains episodes that are re-creations of popular series such as “The Umbrella Academy,” and “Cobra Kai.”

Barrett offered his advice to aspiring content creators: “I would tell them to lean into what they love, and not do what’s just trendy. I think, more often than not, it’s the videos that people feel a genuine vibe from. Those are the deals that blow up because you can tell through the screen like this person loves what they do. And you can’t fake that.”

He added his personal content-making process includes rewatching old videos to figure out what he can improve in his work.

“I definitely think it’s best to look at what you’re doing and try to outdo it,” Barrett noted. “I don’t think it’s really healthy to compare your art to other people’s, because, you know, what’s meant for other people’s not for them, but like, you know, you are you so you should try to find your own shortcomings and try to outdo them.”

Barrett said he wants to visit Tokyo in the future. 

“I definitely want to visit Tokyo, Japan, because [it’s] one of my life goals,” he said. “I told myself if I go there then I’ve made it in life. So once I get there, hopefully I can be a lot more calm.”

‘You just have to go forward’

Photo courtesy of Pam Beidle

Maryland Sen. Pam Beidle was running up the stairs to make it on time to her presentation in an AACC public speaking course when she tripped and fell, injuring herself. With torn tights and bloodied knees, she continued on and gave her speech to the class. 

“You just have to go forward and do what you’re going to do,” Beidle, who graduated from AACC with  a degree in business focused on accounting, said. “I just felt like I had really great opportunities at college. And, you know, it kept me going to school.”

Beidle, who attended the college from 1969-70 and again from 1975-77, later went on to study at Towson University, graduating in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“I took a long way around,” Beidle added. “I stopped and got married and had kids and started a business and then finally finished.”

“I felt like I had really good professors at AACC,” Beidle said. “I started out in the sciences and math and did really well. And then when I came back and focused on the accounting major, I just had really good professors and I really became interested in business at that point.”

After graduating from AACC, Beidle founded an insurance agency which she operated for 38 years before selling it, she said. 

Beidle said community colleges offer students a chance to save money by transferring to a four-year university. 

“I think it’s really important from a cost standpoint for folks to be able to start in community college,” Beidle said. “But it also gives them a chance if they don’t know what their major is, to experience some opportunities and decide before they go to a four year school, what their major is.”

Beidle now represents Maryland’s District 32 in the Maryland Senate, where she is the chair of the Executive Nominations Committee, serves on the Finance Committee and is chair of the Anne Arundel County Senate Delegation. In her political career she has also served as a County Council member for the 1st District of Anne Arundel County, and represented the 32nd District in the Maryland House of Delegates. 

“I had 50 bills passed in four years,” Beidle said in December. “So I feel like I had a really productive four years in the Senate, more than the House. It’s harder to be one of 141 than to be one of 47. So the Senate is very different. … We’re always working on legislation. So I have about 15 pieces of legislation that I’m working on. But a lot of times, it’s just what people bring to you, you know, what constituents and businesses bring, that makes us decide on what legislation we’re going to not only put in ourselves, but support.”

‘It just worked perfectly, especially for me’

Photo courtesy of Debra Malfi

Maryland-based author and musician Ronald Malfi praised the classes and teaching from former AACC creative writing director and Amaranth faculty adviser Susan Cohen

“My fondest memories were Susan Cohen’s writing class,” Malfi, who graduated from AACC in 1997, said. “She was great to me. And she fostered my interest in writing. And I would come early and work in the writing lab. And she let me stay late and finish up some stories that I was working on. And she was very generous of her time with me.”

He added: “It’s hard to find, at some of the bigger universities, professors who will take the one-on-one time to, you know, hone a student’s craft and, kind of, work with them one-on-one to enhance some of their talents.”

During his time at AACC, Malfi published his work in the student journal for the arts, Amaranth

“I think my first published short story ever was published in the Amaranth magazine,” Malfi added, “at Susan’s behest that I submit it.”

Malfi said his time at AACC was a good transition between high school and a four-year college.

“It made total financial sense to do two years there and then transfer to an in-state school, which is what I ultimately did,” Malfi noted. “I think that probably if I were thrust into a four-year college right out of high school, I would have squandered my time with all that new-found freedom. This was a good bridging experience between being a high school student and then going to a four-year college. It just worked perfectly, especially for me. … It was a perfect time of my life to take that next step [of] leaving school, but not being completely on my own. Not being in wholly unfamiliar environments.”

Malfi transferred from AACC to Towson University in 1997 and graduated from Towson in 1999.

He now lives in Annapolis with his family.

“Coming out of college … my first novel was published I think the following year, and I wrote for about a year full time while also playing in a rock band,” Malfi said. “That first book kind of brought me back down to reality of what having a book published is, and what you can and cannot do, and how much work it actually takes to build a career doing that sort of thing. And it wasn’t just going to be an overnight success, at least for me. … Those rose-colored glasses came off quickly in that year, and I realized what it actually meant to have to work towards a goal of being successful doing that.” 

Malfi said he has been interested in writing since childhood. 

“I was about 11 years old, I bought this old typewriter and I just started typing these short stories on there. And the short stories got longer and longer. And I think I wrote, by the time I graduated Towson, I had six, about six novel manuscripts already finished.”

Malfi has published over 20 novels and novellas, including “Come With Me,” his most popular release. Malfi said he dedicated the novel to his friend, journalist Wendi Winters, who was killed in the 2018 Capital Newspaper shooting. 

“It kind of was the way to, kind of, grieve and come to terms with what had happened to her in that tragedy, while also doing what I do best for me, to tell a story,” Malfi said. “And I think probably my readership senses that honesty.”


Photo courtesy of Laura Poitras/Praxis Films

AACC’s most well-known student, however, is former National Security Agency employee and government whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Snowden made international headlines in 2013 when he leaked classified information on global surveillance programs involving the NSA and other intelligence agencies. 

Snowden studied at AACC from 1999-2001 and from 2004-05, according to a 2013 NBC News report. 

Snowden fled from the U.S. in May 2013, and has lived in Russia since 2013. He was granted Russian citizenship in 2020. 

Speaking of his time at AACC to former Campus Current Associate Editor Jesse Johnson at a 2016 National College Media Convention, Snowden remarked: “I hope the pizza in the cafeteria has gotten better.”