Alternative Breaks trips bring faculty and students together through service

September 11, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Alternative Breaks is part of a movement of students across the country to give back during breaks from school to learn more about issues facing society and to become more actively involved in their own communities once they return from the trip. To continue to expand and provide more hands-on learning opportunities for students to engage with different communities through service, Penn State Alternative Breaks needs the help of faculty and staff willing to join these students as a Learning Partner for these trips.

At University Park, Alternative Breaks has been run through the Office of Student Activities since 2007. The program has grown exponentially from two to three trips a year to having 20 trips in the 2018-19 academic year. There will be six fall break trips, two winter break trips, and 12 spring break trips this year focused on various social justice topics, including youth development, urban poverty, homelessness, food security, environmental justice, assisting LGBTQ populations, animal welfare, mental health, rural poverty, education access, race relations and disaster relief.

Each student applies for the trips based on the issue they are most passionate about learning and working with, and then are placed on a team that will provide the strongest learning experience for each of the participants. Locations are later revealed at the first orientation, as the location is not what matters about the service experience, but rather the topic at hand and the opportunity to serve alongside a community.

Learning Partners needed

An essential role for a successful trip is a faculty or staff member who attends the trip as a Learning Partner. Learning Partners participate with the students throughout the week, volunteering and doing reflection each night.

What sets Alternative Breaks apart from other service trips is the time students spend educating themselves about the community they are serving, the social justice topic at hand, and how organizations are working to combat, recover and make changes to best support their community. Learning Partners play an essential role in helping to educate students on their trip, many times having studied these topics in depth. They have a lot to lend to the experience and this makes it much more meaningful for students.

Of course, Learning Partners play another essential role in keeping students safe during the experience. Main responsibilities during the trip include driving a 15-passenger and/or mini-van throughout the trip, supporting student Site Leaders in handling any conflict that may arise, being responsible for a University Purchasing Card and budget provided by the Office of Student Activities, and being an emergency responder.

The trips are student-led with two students who will facilitate the trip, including leading discussions and handling all trip logistics, such as meals, the daily schedule, and working directly with community partners.

The program pays for the experience as faculty/staff are considered to be working during the trip and are not on vacation. Staff member must be full-time exempt to participate.

Individuals interested in becoming a Learning Partner for a trip this fall, winter or spring break, should go to to complete the interest survey. For any other questions, contact the Office of Student Activities at 814-863-4624 or

Individuals interested in becoming a Learning Partner for future trips and upcoming years, also should complete the interest survey to be added to the list of future participants. 

More information can be found on our website at


Last Updated September 14, 2018