Dan Schrider laughs heartily when he thinks back on it now. The morning he was to take the SAT, the then-Atholton High School student overslept. A student who, as he put it, was as focused on fun as he was on schoolwork, he didn't bother to reschedule the college entrance exam.
It wasn't until the Fulton resident enrolled at Howard Community College — after hearing the detailed plans of classmates bound for four-year schools — that he began taking his education more seriously. Though he never earned a degree from HCC, Schrider credits his year-and-a-half stint there with helping him understand how far a quality education could take him.
In fact, he says, it placed him on the road to becoming CEO of Olney-based Sandy Spring Bancorp, which according to NASDAQ is the largest publicly traded banking company headquartered and operating in Maryland.
Now Schrider, who graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park after leaving HCC, is coming back to the school as a motivational speaker. He will counsel students at HCC's signature fundraising event, the Grand Prix, an equestrian outing Sept. 22 at Marama Farm in Clarksville.
He has been named an HCC Distinguished Alumnus of the Year and will spend the school year extolling the benefits of two-year schools. Schrider says many people who transfer from community colleges to four-year schools often don't identify with the former institution once they graduate from the four-year school.
"In my case, HCC was a great beginning for me in terms of taking college courses and beginning a college career, because I really wasn't focused on that while I was in high school," says Schrider, 48, who now resides in Mount Airy.
"When I describe my experience at Howard Community," Schrider says, "I say not only did I learn a good bit while I was taking the classes, but in some cases, I learned how to learn in a college atmosphere.
"I never thought about not going to college, but I never put a lot of emphasis on what was going to be next," says Schrider. "The spring of my senior year, when all of my classmates started talking about what their plans were for the fall, I realized, 'Wow, I'm behind the eight ball.' "
Missy Mattey, executive director of the HCC Educational Foundation, says Schrider spoke at the school's August convocation and has also talked with faculty and staff about his experiences, being candid about his initial academic struggles.
"He's just a normal kind of guy who has done pretty well for himself after leaving HCC and continuing his education," Mattey says.
Schrider graduated from College Park with a degree in business administration and went on to earn an MBA in finance from Mount St. Mary's University, taking classes at night while working full time during the day. He began at Sandy Spring as a commercial loan officer and worked his way up the ranks, becoming CEO in January 2009.
"Once I really began to apply myself [in college] and learn some of the basics of how to study and how to prepare things," says Schrider, "I discovered, 'Hey, I'm just as good as any other student.' I probably was a little bit of a late bloomer from an educational standpoint."
Schrider says he hopes to influence students who, like him, leave high school without a clear sense of direction or focus.
"It played a significant role for me to transition from a small-college atmosphere with folks that cared about my progress. It was a significant step for me," Schrider says. "I don't know if I would have been as successful a student had I gone directly into a larger school."