June 2, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 83°F

Life & Culture

Ducks and gnomes find homes in unexpected places

On a bustling college campus, it is easy to hide in plain sight, whether someone is looking to hide from an annoying person from class or an overly long conversation with them. But lately, organizations on campus have been using this idea of blending into the background for a little taste of competition among students. 

One of the first and most popular scavenger hunts that happened around Ithaca College’s campus in the 2022–23 academic year was the Rehome-the-Gnome campaign, held by the college’s campus store. The origins of this hunt date back to August 2022, when the current general manager of the store, Alicia Ross, started in her new position. 

Ross said she felt like there was not a consistent customer base, with only some people coming in a handful of times per year. Ross said she noticed there were no regulars or people that came for the sake of the environment, and she wanted to change that. 

“I want to make the campus store more involved in students’ lives on campus,” Ross said. “There is just so much going on at this school, and we can be the ones to bring it to the students.”

Ross said her first step was to get rid of all of the items that did not sell very well, that had remained on the shelves for months or even years. She said she wanted to find creative and less wasteful ways to go about finding new places for all this merchandise. When it came to the large collection of Ithaca College branded gnomes, Ross decided to give them away. 

The Rehome-the-Gnome scavenger hunt was a pretty simple competition. Once a day from April 1 through 24, the campus store would post a discreet picture of a location around campus featuring one of the many gnomes. Once a student found the gnome, they would get to keep it, as well as come into the campus store to redeem a prize of their choosing. Ross said that she could not have anticipated just how big of a splash the scavenger hunt would become for students. 

“I could not have imagined how popular it was going to be,” Ross said. “I mean, I have people just come into the store and say they would pay anything for one. It was such a surprise.” 

Ross said she wanted to use the scavenger hunt to inform students of different offices or departments they may need during their time at Ithaca College. She also said she wanted to put the gnomes in more niche places on campus, rather than places like the Campus Center Dining Hall or Park Auditorium. Ross said she wanted to shine a light on places that are resources for students that often do not get talked about or advertised enough. 

However, the gnomes are not impossible to find. One lucky student, sophomore Lily Babcock, and her sister stumbled across one of the treasures entirely by accident. While Babcock was showing her sister around campus, the two stumbled across a gnome hidden on the bunny statue between Smiddy Hall and Dillingham Center. 

Babcock had heard vaguely about the contest and had her suspicions confirmed when seeing the QR code on the bottom. Babcock said it was an exciting feeling, knowing she had found it despite not trying. 

“It was weird finding it at first,” Babcock said. “I had only heard about the scavenger hunt through the lockers so it took me a little to remember what I was looking at when I found it.”

First-year student Mary Townsend, another student to rehome a gnome, had a story similar to Babcock’s. She said via email that she only found out about the scavenger hunt through an advertisement on the mail lockers after it had started. She did not think much of the advertisement at first and did not make a conscious decision to look for one. But, during a walk around campus on an unusually sunny day, she stumbled across one of the treasures so many were seeking, just sitting in a tree. Townsend said she knew she had to take it and make it hers. 

“Of course I had to take him. His name is Richard now,” Townsend said via email. “And he’s a fantastic addition to the decor of my room.”

But students were not only searching for gnomes in need of new homes, as Spring 2023 marks the second time that the Campus Center Programming Team — a part of the Office of Student Engagement — has held their Duck Hunt around campus. Originally, the hunt was done in partnership with Wellness Week, with prizes, hints and locations directly tied to ways to improve personal wellness, but this year was a bit different. 

Jess Shapiro, the assistant director in the Office of Student Engagement, said this year was just about students getting to know the campus they live on. Much like the Campus Store’s hunt, the rubber ducks’ hiding places were intended to force students into new corners of the campus that they had not explored before. Similar to the gnome scavenger hunt, students who found a duck could bring it to Campus Center to exchange it for a prize of their choosing during the week-long event. 

Shapiro said she could not have done it without the Student Leadership Consultants that comprise the Programming Team. The SLCs were responsible for all of the hiding places, hints, prizes, and promotion that was done for the scavenger hunt. 

When Shapiro and the SLCs began working on the event early in the semester, they had no idea there would be another scavenger hunt to compete with, but Shapiro said she was excited that there were so many events going on around campus for students to participate in. 

“I guess great minds think alike!” Shapiro said. “We started planning in February, and I’m not sure when everyone else started working on their own scavenger hunts, but the idea that there are multiple doesn’t bother me. I mean … scavenger hunts are just fun, right? I’m just happy there are ways to get students out and around campus.”