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NOVA-Annandale plays Pokemon Go to interact with students

Orientation Facilitator Nahum Asmelash shows off his collection

Orientation Facilitator Nahum Asmelash shows off his collection of the original 150, first generation Pokemon cards. Asmelash plays the popular Pokemon Go mobile app at the Annandale Campus where players can find a Pokemon gym and several Pokemon Stops.

The group waits as Martinez attempts to take over the gym for her team by going to battle.
NOVA staff members Nahum Asmelash, Jason Defreitas, Margarita Martinez and NOVA student Larry Nguyen stand in the CA building lobby which is also a Pokemon gym on the popular mobile app Pokemon Go. The group waits as Martinez attempts to take over the gym for her team by going to battle.
NOVA student Larry Nguyen shows his character

NOVA student Larry Nguyen is one of many students who have figured out that the Annandale Campus has several Pokemon Stops and a gym on the popular game Pokemon Go.

The Mark R. Warner Student Services Building (CA) has always been a hub of activity on Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale Campus. The building houses the Barnes & Noble Bookstore and Starbucks, counseling and testing centers, business services, admissions office and other services – making it a one-stop shop for students.

In mid-July, however, faculty and staff in the CA building started to notice a different kind of buzz and realized that students – with their noses buried in their smartphones – were starting to visit the building. Academic Success Counselor Margarita Martinez said she noticed a lot of students in the afternoon and soon realized a portion of the CA building is a gym on the popular Pokemon Go app and the Annandale Campus has six different Poke Stops.

Pokemon Go is a free-to-play mobile game app that uses location-based augmented reality. Players pick teams and then collect the different Pokemon characters at different Poke Stops. It was released in most regions in July 2016 and quickly became a hit – and the center of numerous BuzzFeed articles and Internet memes.

Martinez quickly learned that not only were students playing the game at Annandale, her fellow coworkers were also playing and collecting Pokemon on the app. Besides the nostalgia of playing a game based around their favorite characters from the ‘90s, faculty and staff saw another opportunity to connect with students and encourage them to become a part of the campus community.

“We’re putting together a flyer to advertise our Facebook group ‘NVCC Annandale Pokemon Go’ and to encourage students to catch Pokemon on campus,” Martinez said. “The cool thing about the game is that some of the Poke Stops are historical landmarks, so you’re learning something. We want to use the Poke Stops at NOVA to help new students navigate campus and learn about the resources available to them in each building.”

Martinez said her coworker Nahum Asmelash told her about the game and that the CA building was a gym. Asmelash, an orientation facilitator, said there are many faculty and staff playing the game and it builds a connection between them and students. Testing Center Supervisor Jason DeFreitas said it’s a conversation starter because a lot of students come up to the front desk while still looking at their phones.

“A good population of the students are on their phones when they walk in. The game creates good interaction and an opportunity to communicate with them,” DeFreitas said. “The cool part of it is that it bridges generations and takes away the intimidation element that some students might feel between them and staff members.”

First-year NOVA student Larry Nguyen said Pokemon Go has helped him explore campus and the surrounding D.C. metro area – something he didn’t do a lot of before the game was released in early July.

“I was one of those people who didn’t go outside a lot. Now I go out more and catch Pokemon in D.C. and Maryland and on campus,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen was one of Martinez’s students during NOVA’s first summer session, and she noticed he contributed to classroom conversation but was sometimes a little quiet. Once she created the NVCC Annandale Pokemon Go group on Facebook and he became a group member, he was even more involved.

“In class, he talked and got involved but not a lot. In the Facebook group, he is the first to respond to posts, and he gives a lot of information about the game to the group. So the game built up the communication between us and other students in the group who were also playing on campus.”

The NVCC Annandale Pokemon Group currently has more than 10 members who interact with each other and use Pokemon Go to discover new adventures on the Annandale Campus. Martinez said once they advertise the group, they’ll make connections with more students and make sure there are resourceful and educational elements for students trying to “catch them all” at the Annandale Campus.

Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through the Extended Learning Institute. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.