Students use spring break for volunteering, learning

Participants for last year's alternative break in Dallas painted this wall for AIDS Services of Dallas. (Photo Courtesy of Corinne Stratton)

For some, spring break means visiting cities in the U.S. for service-learning trips and dedicating their break to helping communities that are different from what they might be used to, rather than heading to warmer weather at the beach.

Students at Kansas State may apply for these kinds of trips through the alternative breaks program in the Staley School of Leadership Studies. The student coordinators of the program, Hannah Schauf, senior in medical biochemistry, and Gabriel Gutierrez, senior in human resource management, said they help organize these trips so participants can have an experience that will have life-long effects.

“It’s kind of a development program,” Schauf said. “We try and build what we call ‘active citizens.’ It’s just kind of educating on social issues, just to build up students to become aware of the issues that are prevalent in our society.”

Participants for the upcoming spring break trip, which is no longer accepting applications, will go to Denver, Dallas and Kansas City, Missouri, all with their own social issues participants involved.

The Dallas trip focuses on the community’s healthcare and support of AIDS and HIV positive patients, Denver’s trip focuses on the public education system, and Kansas City’s focuses on homelessness and homeless relief programs. Participants cater to what these different communities need at different times.

Past breaks have offered trips to other areas such as Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where they focused on cultural empathy and understanding of the Cherokee Nation. Guiterrez said he went on this trip his freshman year at K-State.

“A lot of the time, students are like, ‘I need to leave the country to have an experience that’s going to change me,’ or ‘I need to go far away to the city, to the coast. to have an experience,'” Gutierrez said. “But for me and for everyone that goes to that trip, it’s really like another world.”

Alexa Wilden, freshman in microbiology, is one of the participants for this spring’s alternative break. She will work with AIDS Services of Dallas, which she said will give her a unique look into the health care industry.

“That’s a really great way to spend some time off because you’re still learning, helping people, developing yourself, developing your leadership skills, etc.,” Wilden said.

Wilden said she had been looking for different opportunities outside of the Manhattan region and to have experiences in an area she is not familiar with. She said she hopes to take the things she will learn into the health care field.

“(I’m excited for) learning about these people that have this illness, learning how their lives are, what their hardships are and seeing how they are able to persevere and how, as a health care system, we are able to help them,” Wilden said.

Gutierrez and Schauf said, although there are skills to be learned that are applicable to future jobs, they do not see this program as a résumé builder. The purpose of these trips is for students to practice service learning. Schauf said site leaders work with participants on reflecting on their experiences on these trips and learning from them.

“This is an opportunity that students really pass by,” Gutierrez said. “The biggest thing I’ve seen is a change in students who didn’t even know what they were getting into and they came back with a different mindset towards empathy and towards populations they weren’t really sure about. It really opens your eyes to what a culture of America looks like.”

The program takes around 21 to 30 students to different sites every winter and spring break. Some sites have been visited before, but Schauf and Gutierrez said they are working to reach out to different groups with focuses in other social issues students may be interested in.

Applications will open for the next alternative break in the fall.

“We have a lot of work to do here in the United States that people just kind of pass that by,” Schauf said.

Kelsey Kendall
Hi everyone! I'm a senior in journalism and cultural anthropology. My favorite things are storytelling, coffee and meeting new people. In that order.