Advisor’s Perspective: Alternative Spring Break

When I started at Northeastern as an Explore Program student in 2011, one of the first things I wanted to do was get involved with the Center of Community Service. Like so many of our current students, I volunteered with many different types of organizations in high school, and I was ready to find my place in the Boston community when I started college. I enrolled in a service-learning section of the Explore Program 1-credit seminar, Connections & Decisions, and was matched with a mentoring organization called Strong Women, Strong Girls, which is also a student organization on campus.

The Service-Learning Program and Strong Women, Strong Girls, along with the Explore Program, quickly became the most important threads in my journey of academic and career exploration. Working within the organizational structure of a university, mentoring younger students as a Service-Learning Teaching Assistant, and running an 18-member executive board overseeing an organization with 60 active college women mentors as Chapter Director of SWSG all helped me discover my passion for working in higher education and college student development. Through the Service-Learning Program and the Center of Community Service, I found my voice and my path, and I’ve stayed connected ever since.

Over the past few years as an academic advisor in the Explore Program, I’ve had the opportunity to teach several Service-Learning sections of Connections & Decisions, the same class I took as a student in 2011. In that way, it feels as though I’ve come full circle in my journey at Northeastern. That doesn’t mean I’m not constantly seeking new challenges and adventures!

A few years ago, I applied to be a University Representative (URep) for the Center of Community Service’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) Program. Alternative Spring Break is a weeklong immersive service opportunity for Northeastern students during spring break week. Each trip is led by two student team leaders and supported by one staff or faculty URep. Since I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in ASB as a student, I figured, why not as a staff member?

Two years ago, I traveled with a group of students to Unity, Maine to serve with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) for a week in March. It was COLD and snowy, but we had a blast cooking organic meals to be frozen for future events, painting the inside of a farmhouse for a new farmer-in-residence program, and making our own maple syrup. Best of all, I got to experience the trip through the lens of the students – we were a small group, and we spent every moment together serving with MOFGA, cooking meals, participating in group reflections, and sitting by the fire pit boiling our maple syrup, despite freezing temperatures.

Although the URep is there to support students, especially in case of emergency, our role is not to lead the trip but to participate as a member of the group. The team leaders took charge, which was a nice change for me, and I got to know the students on the trip in a totally different way than I get to know my advisees or the students in my classes.

After a great experience on the MOFGA trip a few years ago, I was eager to participate in ASB again, and this year I was selected to support the trip to Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. We were much further from home this time, and there were some (quite literal) bumps along the way (especially in the muddy dirt roads around Kanab Canyon), but this trip was the experience of a lifetime, and I wouldn’t have changed anything.

Best Friends is the largest no-kill animal shelter in the country, and our daily volunteer shifts supported so many different aspects of caring for the animals, such as cleaning animal runs, filling in holes dug by energetic pups, socializing with a variety of animals, and learning about the Best Friends mission and advocacy work. My favorite parts of our Best Friends experience were learning about Natural Horsemanship and watching a live demo with a horse that was new to the sanctuary; snuggling with my two favorite kittens, Vincent and Unicorn; and taking the sweetest dog Yvonne “home” to our Airbnb for a sleepover to help her get used to interacting with humans in a home environment. We also loved the $5 vegan lunch buffet!

Although the actual volunteer work certainly felt like equal parts work and play, we also had some free time to explore southern Utah. We traveled as a group to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, and I collected new stamps for my National Parks stamp book. We bonded as a group over challenging hikes, car ride riddles, and shared stories of our experiences at Northeastern. Our daily group reflections allowed us each to think more deeply about what we were getting out of the trip and opportunities to continue volunteering with animals in Boston. Once again, I loved the opportunity to interact with students in a totally different context than my usual day-to-day work, and I can’t wait for my next ASB trip in the future!

Are you ready for your next service experience? There are many ways you can get involved in the Center of Community Service!

  • Alternative Spring Break: apply for a leadership role as a team leader or join a trip as a student volunteer for a spring 2020 trip.
  • Service-Learning: attend the Service-Learning Reception & Virtual Expo, apply to be a Service-Learning Teaching Assistant (applications just closed for fall 2019, but there’s always next semester!) or register for a service-learning class in the fall.
  • Newly admitted students: apply for NU|ACES! ACES includes a weeklong service experience before classes start in the fall and a year-long commitment to weekly service a community partner in Boston.
  • Check out the Center of Community Service website for other service opportunities, including weekly and one-time experiences.