Intellectual and emotional growth in college is apt to take place in a number of venues. Classrooms, for sure. The library, yeah. Coffee shops, dorm rooms, laboratories and stadiums also offer their share of lessons.
But the most accelerated growth for college students often takes place off campus during service-oriented excursions.
This Spring Break, March 4-11, 2017, dozens of students will participate in a variety of engaging service trips with the College’s Alternative Break Program. Some will be traveling to Las Marias, Puerto Rico, to study permaculture – the development of sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural practices – through hands-on work and community service at a farm called Plenitud. Others will journey to Miami to learn about human trafficking. Another contingent will spend its break in rural Tennessee participating in conservation projects, organic gardening and eco-construction projects at the Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center. And a final group will spend the week near Charlotte, N.C., working with Habitat for Humanity.
Chris Ciarcia, associate director of the College’s Center for Civic Engagement, said the mission of Alternative Break is to empower students to become active citizens through social-issue-focused education, direct service and reflection.
“These trips are a key tool in that work because they offer dynamic experiential learning opportunities that enable students to explore the world of active citizenship,” he said.
You don’t have to look far to find proof of the growth and impact potential that alternative break trips offer. Katie Joiner, a junior majoring in urban studies, was a site leader for an Alternative Break trip to Tennessee and was in charge of budgeting, marketing, fundraising and group management. Now she’s on the leadership board for Alternative Break, and her experiences helped secure an internship at the White House in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.
“I found my passion in community engagement and inclusion through intentional and equitable infrastructure planning, policies and programming,” said Joiner.
Aly Skiko, a senior biology major with minors in environmental studies and dance, has been involved in Alternative Break since she was a freshman.
“I’ve actually participated in five Alternative Break trips and I’ve served as a site leader on four of those,” she said. “I’ll be one of the site leaders for our upcoming trip on human trafficking. For me, each Alternative Break experience provided a broader perspective on issues that are important to society. I think that any college student looking to learn more about social issues and become more involved in his or her community should participate in an Alternative Break trip. I’ve gotten so much out of this program over the years. I don’t know where I would be without it.”
And for Lacey Key, a junior pursuing a double major in biology and communications, these trips have been an important aspect of her college career.
“Alternative Break has been the most life-changing and growth-inspiring opportunity I have had in college,” Key said. “On these trips, I’ve learned through travel, community, early morning farmers markets, late night reflections, museum visits and simply meeting people who have so much to gain from sustainable change. I’ve learned what it is to put passion for change into action.”
According to Ciarcia, it doesn’t really matter which trip students choose.
“Each one offers transformational learning experiences and the chance to develop relationships that will last a lifetime,” he said. “Students who do these trips also become better justice-oriented citizens and end up building their resumes through important hands-on experiences that can translate to virtually any field.”
The deadline for submitting an Alternative Break application is Jan. 18, 2017. For additional information, visit the Center for Civic Engagement.