Mar 012010
Authors: Philip Lindeman, College Avenue Magazine

Mexico has long been a popular destination for Spring Break. The list of one-name party towns is endless –– Cabo, Cancun, Cozumel –– and they all offer the promise of no homework and no responsibility.

For the past seven years, students and faculty from the Little Shop of Physics have joined forces with the Native American Cultural Center (NACC) to visit the Four Corners area of New Mexico for a much different type of Spring Break.

“This trip is a great opportunity for students to experience a different culture,” said Ty Smith, NACC director. “It’s service learning as well.”

The trip is part of a long-standing partnership between CSU and two reservations, the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. The group of 18 students will help run physics demonstration at local schools, workshops for teachers and a community night for people of all ages.

For the second year, the program will be considered an alternative break, one of 19 excursions organized by the office of Student Leadership, Involvement and Civic Engagement (SLiCE). The trips are a popular option for many students who want to find a balance between service and travel, said Sam Bowersox-Daly, the student Alternative Break coordinator.

“We try to gauge from years past what trips may have a high demand,” said Bowersox-Daly, a senior sociology major. “There has to be an educational service element, something you wouldn’t find in Fort Collins. Beyond that, it’s working with relevant topics and agencies.”

CSU has offered alternative breaks for more than a decade.

Throughout the year, more than 200 students and faculty participate, according to the SLiCE Web site.

This spring, there were 180 applications for 130 spots, making the program highly selective. The trips give students the opportunity to become immersed in a unique, often at-risk culture.

Although SLiCE offers some weekend and winter trips, Spring Break is the busiest time of year. The office has arranged 13 trips, each lasting for a week, said Jen Johnson, an assistant director with SLiCE.
The stateside trips cover a large range of issues at sites on both coasts.

Students in New York City will work with the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a center dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS, according to the SLiCE Web site. The trip to Washington, D.C. will concentrate on homelessness. Students will volunteer by serving food and doing maintenance at shelters, Johnson said.

Aside from community activism, a large variety of the trips focus on environmental and sustainability issues. Students going to Moab, Utah will be working with the nonprofit agency Plateau Restoration to do trail maintenance.

The reason for having so many options is that each trip has a different focus, Johnson said. The only international trip this spring will concentrate on homelessness and ecotourism issues in the tiny village of Achiote, Panama. It is also the oldest CSU program abroad.

With the recent earthquake in Haiti, some students are planning to volunteer in the country, but there are no CSU groups making the trip.

“All international travel goes through our office, and as of now, we don’t have anyone preparing to go to Haiti,” said Shauna DeLuca, the coordinator for the Office of International Programs.

Bowersox-Daly said it would have been difficult to arrange an international trip on short notice. This is also why no CSU organizations are traveling to Chile to assist with aid efforts after this last Saturday’s devastating earthquake.

“Because we partner with the Office of International Programs, there are a lot of logistics to sending someone to another country under the name CSU,” Bowersox-Daly said. He added that at the moment, there isn’t an immediate need for student volunteers.

“What Haiti needs right now is money and people with specific skills,” Johnson said. “In my personal opinion, CSU students are very passionate, but they don’t have those specific skills, like being a doctor. So the choice not to go was intentional.”

CSU has been sending volunteers to Louisiana the past five years to help with disaster relief and other rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina. It has become one of the most popular excursions, and this year, two separate trips are scheduled for the New Orleans area.

“A lot of people don’t realize there is still a lot of work to be done,” Bowersox-Daly said, adding that activism groups are still looking at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Along with volunteering, most programs include at least one free day, where participants can explore their adopted community and culture.

“This year, we’ll go to Chaco Canyon and do some hiking through the Anasazi ruins,” Smith said. “We’ll try and learn more about those ancient peoples and cultures.”

For Bowersox-Daly, this year will be his fourth and final alternative break trip. He’ll be traveling to Maryville, Tenn., where he and a group of about 10 students will be doing trail restoration in the Appalachian Mountains and working with the Cherokee Nation.

“Experiences outside of academics are crucial for your professional development and character development,” Bowersox-Daly said.

Smith echoed his point.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for students to go out and do service learning, contribute to various communities and have fun at the same time,” Smith said.
Philip Lindeman is the Web Content Editor for College Avenue magazine and can be reached at

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