Many students pursue 'alternative' spring break activities

March 02, 2004

University Park, Pa. -- Spring break is just days away, and while many students are packing their bathing suits and beach towels for a week of relaxation, hundreds of Penn Staters are filling their suitcases with tools and textbooks in preparation for service and learning adventures during the week of March 8.

A group of students from Penn State University Park will visit routes similar to those taken by Martin Luther King Jr. during his 1960s protest campaigns when they participate in "A Journey South Through the Black Civil Rights Movement." This experimental introduction to the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in the United States is offered to students enrolled in History 297A/497H, and is sponsored by Shreyer Honors College. Students will visit a series of important sites from Washington, D.C., through Atlanta, to investigate the various aspects of this important time in U.S. history. Before and during the trip, the students will examine the interrelationships among political, philosophical, religious and sociopolitical forces that hindered and drove the Civil Rights Movement.

Highlights of the trip include meetings with Johnnie Carr and Louis Brandon, both longtime civil rights activists, and a rendezvous in Selma, Ala., with University of Pennsylvania students taking a similar spring break trip.

Even though students in Penn State's Alternative Spring Break (ASB) club won't have studies on their minds this spring break, they plan on learning some important life lessons. The ASB club is devoted entirely to helping members volunteer, make a difference and grow as citizens while exploring pressing community issues during spring break. Each year, the club facilitates trips to cities across the country that allow Penn Staters to work diligently to make life better for the less fortunate.

One of this year's Alternative Spring Break Club-sponsored trips will take students west to Chicago, where they will work at the Christopher House. There, the students will spend quality time with underprivileged children of parents with limited income. Another ASB crew will head to Washington, D.C., where students will volunteer at the Friendship House, a day-care center specifically designed for children of low-income families. In addition, they will help tutor children at the Latin American Youth Center, an after-school program devoted to Latin-American children. Finally, yet another ASB group is planning a trip north to help out at the Boston Food Bank over the break.

A group of Penn State Altoona students and faculty will use spring break to help those in need in the Dominican Republic. Twenty students and five faculty chaperones will spend a week at the Hope of the Child Orphanage in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic. They will help with various building and renovation projects and will work with the children in a variety of educational and recreational activities. In addition, they will teach English, reading and other subjects to the orphanage's children.

In preparation for the trip, the group has collected children's clothing, toiletries and first-aid equipment, art supplies and other items to donate to the orphanage. This year marks the fourth annual alternative spring break trip that Penn State Altoona students and faculty have taken to the Dominican Republic.

Another group spending an alternative break outside the country is a Penn State University Park team that will perform a "rapid environmental assessment" in Belize. During a stay of more than a week in the Monkey River Village, a remote village located in a national park and near a newly designated marine reserve, the Penn Staters will gauge the ability and willingness of its nearly 200 inhabitants to participate in the stewardship of their surroundings.

The spring break trip, planned in cooperation with the Toledo Institute for Development and the Environment and the University of Belize, is the major focus of a rural sociology class on community development. Students will collect baseline data on the ecology and social structure of the area to see if the residents of the village have the capacity to co-manage the reserve by making decisions on how its natural and historical resources are used.

Other Penn Staters traveling to Belize this spring break include Christians in Action students working on education and agriculture projects, and a service-learning group led by Nicole Webster, a faculty member in agriculture and extension education, which will focus on Belize City.

Also spending their break working diligently in the tropics is Penn State University Park's Engineers Without Frontiers (EWF), who will spend spring break applying their training to help solve problems in developing communities in Jamaica.

EWF members will be collaborating with their engineering counterparts from Jamaica' s University of Technology. The collaborative student teams will work side by side with community members and industry to solve actual technical problems in local communities. This trip is part of a new course offered in Engineering Design and Graphics (EDG 296/496), which allows students at the sophomore through senior levels to engage in actual design and research activities addressing issues pertinent to developing communities and travel to implement those solutions.

A trip across the Atlantic is in store for many Penn Staters connected to Penn State New Kensington who are involved in yet another alternative spring break effort. Twenty students and 22 faculty, staff and alumni will be jetting off to Spain over the spring break to add an international experience to their Spanish 130H curriculum.

The group will visit Madrid, Toledo, Granada and Seville, and explore El Prado, the Royal Palace, the Valley of the Fallen, El Greco's house, the Toledo Cathedral, the Alhambra Palace and the Mosque of the Caliphs, to name only a few culture- and history-rich destinations.

Back in the states, students from Penn State Erie will head to Nashville, Tenn., for their spring break. While in Nashville, the students will work with the Catholic Charities Refuge and Immigration Department to set up apartments for incoming families. The work involves sorting through used items to help families set up their homes and helping them with conversational English.

Closer to home, Penn State DuBois students, faculty and staff will assist in the annual Tech Challenge, an on-campus technology competition that involves local and regional high schools. Penn State's IT and engineering clubs particularly are involved by acting as guides for the day and by helping with competition problems that are given to students throughout the event. Additionally, many alumni who now work in industry have volunteered to judge the competition.

Whether they chose to rekindle relationships with family and friends or immerse themselves in a new experience, Penn State students appear to be making the most of their spring break and may come back to face the rest of the spring semester with a new-found sense of the world.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009