President's Blog

Alternative spring break: learning by engaging in real-world issues

Spring break doesn’t need to be a time to pause learning.  It can be an opportunity to accelerate it. That’s the theory and practice behind the Social Action & Integrative Learning program (SAIL) offered by the New Century College.

About 60 students are taking Alternative Break (AB) trips, to engage in real-world challenges and embed themselves in other cultures.

The way we define our learning objective at Mason is to produce engaged citizens who are prepared to act. Alternative Breaks are a perfect way to deliver on that proposition.

Students on this year’s spring AB trips will be creating lesson plans and teaching in schools in Guatemala and Jamaica, organizing communities in El Salvador, protecting Florida wetlands, strengthening afters-school enrichment programs in Philadelphia area, and working with HIV/AIDS organizations in Washington, D.C.

Some Mason students return to the same communities year after year to further deepen their – and the university’s – relationship with these communities. This sustains longstanding partnerships between Mason and service organizations in those areas. After graduating, many AB trip leaders have taken positions in AmeriCorps, Teach for America, and the Peace Corps to continue their service.

Recently, the SAIL staff asked a few of the trip participants what they gain from their AB experiences. I have condensed a few of their responses below.

Global Affairs major Tabatha Donley: “I love the fact that AB emphasizes community engagement and involvement. We are not going to El Salvador to “help” in the traditional service sense – it is a cross-cultural learning experience that will foster new ideas, connect local and global attributes, develop service-minded leadership, and create global relationships.”

Integrative Studies major Brittany Grutter: “Being a Conservation major it’s sometimes daunting to think about the predicament our environment is facing. The Florida trip every spring has helped me stay optimistic because of the amount of new people willing to dedicate themselves to this issue, as well as returners who keep coming back to continue our goals. This hands-on work makes it meaningful and tangible.”

Community Health major Sarah Liu: “Through the AB program, I hope to gain an experience of what it is like to work with the local people of El Salvador and how we can learn and build community together, hopefully helping me determine what I would like to do in the future as my job. Going to El Salvador will be a major factor in determining what I want to do as my career.”

Regardless of where you spend your spring break, here’s hoping it’s a safe, restful, and rewarding one.