Alternative Spring Breaks Blend Academics and Altruism

March 23, 2010

Lounging on beaches or catching up on zzzz’s back home are just two of the ways students typically spend the seven glorious days of spring break. But for about 50 Rollins students, spring break 2010 presented the opportunity to spend some time actively engaged in global citizenship as well as the chance to bridge the gap between academics and altruism, textbooks and travel. Not only did these students step outside of their backyards, travelling to Washington D.C., rural Mexico and Guatemala, but they stepped outside of their comfort zones, too.

“The Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program is a great way for students to use their time off as a time on,” said Micki Meyer, director of the Office of Community Engagement. “These domestic and international experiences get students thinking about what they are learning in the classroom and how that prepares them for a life of active citizenship.”

Three groups of students headed out of state this past March; one was a field immersion trip to Mexico involving community-based research on globalization and women; another group journeyed to Guatemala to learn about organic coffee production; a third group headed to Washington D.C. to dive into the world poverty and community health.
ASBLearning about major social issues such as poverty, justice, culture, race, class and gender in the classroom is one thing; but programs like ASB bring that learning to life. “Community engagement gets students to start thinking about how they want to live the rest of their lives as leaders,” said Meyer.

“The whole reason we do community engagement is to get students to think beyond their service experiences to how they can then make different choices as consumers, professionals and leaders in society. We hope that their participation in community-engaged projects and research allows them to meet pressing community needs while learning from those in the field that are creating progress and solving the greatest challenges of the 21st century."

Immersion and community engagement experiences are core to the College mission and a huge draw for potential Rollins students. Meyer acknowledges that “prospective students are now choosing to enroll at Rollins because of these opportunities.” This year, about 200 Rollins students will participate in service-learning, either domestically or abroad. Service-learning trips—both non-credit and for credit—are scheduled throughout the academic year and last from three to 12 days.

Trips, like those planned for the 2010 spring break, are borne from a variety of sources; abroad programs generally come from the inspiration of faculty members who have a strong desire to blend real-world experiences with their academic curriculum. Rollins faculty is made up of educators who believe that community engagement is a critical part of academics.  “Connecting the heart with the mind is at the core of a true liberal arts education,” said Meyers. “Twenty-first century educators know that you have to get students engaged in their community in order to provide a complete educational experience.”

Domestic experiences typically come from staff and students. The Immersion Committee, which operates within the Offices of Community Engagement and Student Involvement and Leadership, is a collective of students and staff members who work together to plan and facilitate weekend and week-long service experiences. “The goal is for students to become very aware of what’s happening in the world around them,” said Meyers. “Hopefully, they’ll experience a sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo and want to make positive changes in the world.” Funding for domestic and international service experiences is available thanks to the Rhoda Newberry Reed (RNR) Foundation which funds or partially subsidizes many of these trips.

Being an active player in the world of alternative spring break programs isn’t new for Rollins. Last year, Assistant Director of Community Engagement Meredith Hein and Interim Director of Explorations Meghan Harte were featured speakers on a national conference call of more than 30 college and university community engagement, student life and non-profit professional staff members. The call was organized by Break Away®: the Alternative Break Connection, as a way to share best practices among college and universities and spotlight innovative alternative spring break programs taking place around the country. Break Away is a national nonprofit organization that supports the development of quality alternative break programs by providing training and information to colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations interested in creating lifelong active citizens through these intensive service-learning programs.

There’s a growing sentiment that a college education is made exponentially richer when students are equipped to make a real difference in the world. “Education,” Meyers firmly believes “is for the life of the mind in action.”

Reputed American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead perhaps said it best: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."


Rollins was featured on the Daily Buzz on Friday, March 12 to talk about the College’s alternative spring break program. "The Daily Buzz" airs in 141 markets around the nation. Special thanks to "The Daily Buzz" for permission to post this segment.  

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