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Alternative Break Trips deepen student learning

By Contributing Writer on September 9, 2018

The Max A. Shacknai COVE continues to offer opportunities to deepen student understanding of complex social issues by providing opportunities for immersive experiences in environments very different from those available in the local community. Students participate in a series of preparation and reflective activities to create a rich learning opportunity. Alternative break trips are not discrete one-week experiences. In addition to committing to a work-intensive week, students are responsible for attending predeparture meetings that introduce the participants to the community and organization with which they will be working and the critical issues with which they will be dealing.

Those who participate are civically engaged students interested in effecting sustainable local and global change through a continued commitment. In total, 63 participants in these programs contributed more than 2,900 hours of direct service to these communities this year.

Habitat for Humanity Spring Break Trip, Exmore, VA

  • Habitat for Humanity Spring Break Trip, Exmore, Va.
    Students traveled to Exmore, Va. to work with the Eastern Shore of Virginia Habitat for Humanity. The group installed insulation and hung sheet rock in a house being built for a local family. Habitat for Humanity houses are simple, decent, and affordable to low-income families. Whenever possible, Habitat for Humanity builds energy-efficient, sustainable housing. The goal of Habitat for Humanity is to help solve the global housing crisis and help the 48.5 million people living in poverty.


  • Hunger and Homelessness Outreach Winter Break Trip, Washington, D.C.
    America is one of the world’s wealthiest nations, especially when it comes to our agricultural production; yet enough food to feed every hungry adult and child living in the nation goes to waste each day. Each night, some five million children go to bed hungry. As many as three and a half million people each year have no bed to call their own, as they experience homelessness. Participants in this winter break trip had the opportunity to explore the root causes of the problems and efforts to improve the hunger and homelessness situation in America through a series of site visits, guest speakers, and discussions. Participants volunteered at soup kitchens and with various organizations that specialize in assisting and empowering the homeless population. One participant shared, “During my alternative break in Washington, D.C., I felt like I was introduced to a new perspective and a multitude of people with interesting stories and lives. After this trip, I feel more aware of what is going on in cities and how people are being excluded in the process of modernization, which is completely unacceptable. Since being back at Colgate, I have applied and been accepted to the SRS class, Politics and Education in Philadelphia: Gentrification, Charter Schools, and the New Urban America. Through this I hope to pursue some topics that were introduced on the trip and develop a more complete understanding.”

Camp Campbell Outdoor Science School, Boulder Creek, California

  • Camp Campbell Outdoor Science School, Boulder Creek, Calif.
    YMCA Camp Campbell Outdoor Science School is a residential camp tucked in the redwood mountains of California. They run an outdoor science school for a diverse group of local 5th and 6th graders. Colgate student volunteers worked as cabin leaders for these students – participating in field studies and activities during the day and staying overnight in cabins with campers. Participants received training from the camp staff and attended field study along with students and their naturalist. Field study time focused on hands-on ecology exploration in the redwood forest. Field study time also included a day-long picnic hike to an amazing ridge top view, a night hike, river study, survival skills, swimming pool, and more. One volunteer wrote, “The Camp Campbell alternative break trip was an incredibly rewarding experience. I expanded my understanding of science outreach and learned to deal with challenges that arose. It was an experience that brought our group together and I am so thankful for the opportunity.”

Medical Brigade, Nicaragua

  • Medical Brigade, Nicaragua
    Twenty-three Colgate students partnered with a group of students from Columbia University to participate in a Global Medical Brigade trip. Students assisted local doctors and dentists in a medical clinic in La Naranja, Nicaragua. They also lent a hand digging trenches for a water system in Las Cureñas, Nicaragua. One student shared, “This experience made me think a lot about the technologies we take for granted in our hospitals and doctor’s offices that make diagnosis and treatment so much easier and more accurate. I think that seeing this is important for students wanting to work in health care, in order to remind them that the field is not all about the glory of being a doctor but also about providing something so necessary to individuals, and to remind the students about the importance of giving back throughout their careers. I think that we have the responsibility to share the resources we have globally, as long as it is in a sustainable and culturally respectful manner.”

Leadership Program Development with Pathfinder Village in Edmeston, NY

  • Leadership Program Development with Pathfinder Village in Edmeston, N.Y.
    Pathfinder Village is a caring community offering independence to people living with Down Syndrome and developmental disabilities. Six Colgate volunteers participated in a five-day inclusive team-building program designed to build shared learning, mentoring, and coaching relationships between Pathfinder Village secondary students and college-age peers. Student volunteers are paired one on one with a resident for the duration of the week and each team works together on a variety of challenges. Activities include a ropes course, hike, cooking competitions, and planning a St. Patrick’s Day event for other residents. The goals of this trip are to build relationships with Pathfinder staff and residents while providing the organization with valuable service that will impact the lives of participants for years to come.

The deep immersion experiences described above are significant to students in terms of their ability to make meaning of what they learn in the classroom through direct application. Students have the opportunity to reflect on their personal values and ethics through the lens of often difficult experiences, leading to profound questions and conclusions.

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