Alternative Service Breaks offer transformative experiences for faculty and staff

Alternative Service Break

 

Now in its 10th year, the Alternative Service Break (ASB) program at UNT provides transformative experiences, not just for students, but faculty and staff as well. Full time faculty and staff can serve as advisors for the service trips, which are held during winter and spring breaks.

Advisors lead a group of students to locations around the country to raise awareness of social issues and injustices through an immersive experience.

The deadline for faculty and staff to apply to advise one of the winter trips is Oct. 12. The deadline is Nov. 2 for the spring trips.

Patricia Rodriguez, community service coordinator in the Center for Leadership and Service in the Division of Student Affairs, is one of the 20 faculty and staff who lead the trips each year. In 2015, one year after arriving at UNT, she led a group of students on a trip to the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, which provides care for abandoned, abused and neglected big cats like tigers, lions, leopards and cougars.

“It was really impactful and a different kind of trip,” Rodriguez says. “Every trip is a new experience and I love getting the chance to grow and learn new things.” Rodriguez participated in her first service break trip in 2012 with a university where she previously worked. That trip was to Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.

We went with AmeriCorps to restore houses damaged in the hurricane and that was really a cool experience,” she says.

After that, Rodriguez ended up running the alternative trip program at her previous institution.

“I knew right away when I came to UNT that I wanted to continue participating in this program,” she says. “There’s something really magical about being able to talk about service issues with students, while giving them skillsets that will impact their careers and lives. The skills they learn can be transported to all parts of their lives.”

Stephanie Knight, director of the Center for Leadership and Service, says the six winter and 12 spring trips can be just as transformative for faculty and staff as they are for students. “These trips are an amazing opportunity for faculty and staff to work side-by-side with students as they learn about and experience social issues facing communities across Texas and the U.S.,” says Knight.

In January, Ronald Schumann and Mary Nelan from the Department of Emergency Management & Disaster Science in the College of Health and Public Service, led students on a trip to New Orleans to focus on disaster recovery.

The group worked with the St. Bernard Project, a non-profit in the city, to build a house in the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina.

“It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career,” says Schumann. “Seeing your students learn in the classroom is great, but to see them go into the field and see the light bulbs go off was amazing. You really get to see them connect the lessons in the class to what they are doing.”

Schumann and Rodriguez both say it is a priceless experience that they will repeat. Rodriguez added that even if you can’t attend as an advisor, being an advocate for the program is just as vital.

“Talk to the students about participating, so they can find their voices,” she says.