NIU students returned to DeKalb this week from more-tropical climates after a week-long spring break. Many students broke the routine of college by taking advantage of service opportunities during what’s commonly called “Alternative Spring Break.”
NIU is fortunate to have several such programs available to students through the Office of Student Involvement & Leadership Development, dealing with issues such as civil rights, affordable housing and service to those with disabilities.
One such potentially life-changing experience was the trip to Selma, Ala., working with the Freedom Foundation to advocate for and advance civil rights and marking the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. This trip provided a valuable learning opportunity and highlights the importance of diversity and equality while working with young people, helping build a youth institute and doing community improvement projects.
Several dozen students headed to the Florida panhandle to lend a hand to Pensacola Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization which provides affordable housing to low-income families. In the process of building new homes, Habitat has cleaned up lots previously used for illegal dumping and has torn down dilapidated structures, making neighborhoods safer and cleaner.
NIU student volunteers also went to Texas to serve as counselors at Camp Summit, a 117-acre resort that provides individuals with disabilities age 6 and older with a barrier-free outdoor experience that promotes personal growth and fosters independence.
NIU Outdoor Adventures’ week-long trip to Georgia’s Chattahoochie National Forest offered students a chance to assist in the restoration of trails that run through the scenic park, working alongside staff hauling gravel, building check dams, rebuilding rock walls and rehabilitating campsites.
From March 9 to 12, the NIU student-founded Remember Project partnered with After School Matters –a nonprofit organization that offers Chicago high school students innovative out-of-school activities – to offer volunteer opportunities in four programs focusing on the performing arts in Chicago, including music, dance, theater and poetry sessions.
Service learning and volunteer programs such as these are High Impact Practices that profoundly enrich our students’ educational experience. They give students direct experience with issues they are studying in the curriculum and provide opportunities to analyze and solve problems in real-world settings. Alternative Spring Break programs model the NIU ideal of giving something back to the community. It is an important college outcome that prepares our students for citizenship, career and life success.
I want to salute the members of NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology’s Supermileage Team, who started spring break a little early with a trip to Los Angeles. Four members of the team were selected to appear in a Shell Oil promotion for the upcoming Shell Eco-marathon competition in conjunction with the “Emmy-winning Jay Leno’s Garage” following a Skype interview with NBC producers. They traveled March 5 to Los Angeles to record the promotion the next day.
The team work, leadership, communication and interpersonal skills they are learning through the team – not to mention the cool experiences they have had – will undoubtedly pay dividends for them in the future in addition to the memories they will share.