College students on spring break — it’s a phrase that conjures up vivid images. Those of a certain age may think of Connie Francis pursing Frank Gorshen in “Where the Boys Are,” while a younger generation may picture dancing in foam at Señor Frogs in Cancun. But for many students at Michigan Technological University, spring break means something altogether different.
For some college students, spring break may be synonymous with partying and decadence. However, many students at Michigan Tech are traveling beyond those stereotypes, and in some cases the country, to use their time away from the classroom for the greater good.
Alternative spring breaks combine the suspension of studies with something extraordinary. There have been some pretty exciting excursions in the past and this year is no exception.
National Society of Black Engineers
Again this year, members of the Tech chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) in collaboration with the Detroit Public Schools, are spreading the excitement of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education. A total of 11 Tech students, all but one from the state of Michigan, will visit Detroit-area middle schools March 6 – 8, while hosting Family Engineering Nights in the evenings.
Joan Chadde, director of the Center for Science and Environmental Outreach at Michigan Tech, says the Family Engineering program was developed at Tech with several partner organizations.
“The goal is to engage, inspire and encourage elementary students to learn about and consider careers in engineering and science through hands-on activities with their parents at Family Engineering events,” Chadde explains. She says the program is designed to address the country’s need for an increased number and greater diversity of students skilled in math, science, technology and engineering. “The Family Engineering program targets six to 12-year olds and their parents.”
Also carrying the message of STEM over break will be Michigan Tech’s Mind Trekkers. For the third year, they will partner with San Jacinto Community College in Houston, Texas to put on a STEM festival for about 5,000 middle-school students.
Amanda McConnon, assistant director for the Center for Educational Outreach says the goal of the festival is to light a spark in young people. “We want to create an interest in the STEM fields within the students attending by showcasing hands-on and exciting demonstrations utilizing science, technology, engineering and math.”
McConnon says 17 Tech students will participate in the 2017 Adventures in STEM Science Festival. “We want to bring the WOW of STEM to students during the two-day festival.”
She says Mind Trekkers will also work with San Jacinto College to help establish their own supply of demonstrations to continue the festival in the future. “We will be training volunteers to run demos and the onsite team for future planning,” McConnon states.
Two of Michigan Tech’s Christian student organizations will embark on international missions while on break. Cru (formally known as Campus Crusade for Christ), an interdenominational organization, is embarking on two different alternative spring breaks, one foreign and one domestic.
Zachary Raubinger of Michigan Tech Cru says one of the trips is called “Big Break.” It’s taking place at the birthplace of spring breaks, in Florida.
“It’s a conference-type trip to Panama City Beach,” Raubinger says. “Throughout the whole month of March, Cru rents an entire condo/hotel and conference center, hosting about 1,200 college students each week. While at the conference we learn how to use the gift of evangelism on the beaches of PCB. While we’re down there, we not only spread God’s word but also just have fun on the white-sand beaches.”
Raubinger says the group will make the 26-hour drive down to Florida and back in one solid drive. “It’s a fun experience to drive through seven different states,” he explains. “Not many people get to experience that.”
Driving is not possible on the other Cru spring break trip. “The second one is an international trip to the Netherlands. We will be joining students from Northern Michigan and Western Michigan Crus.”
Raubingers says the students will stay with Cru staff members living in the Netherlands. During the week they’ll go to a college in Tulberg to plan a party to be thrown at the end of the week. “Every day they’ll go around the campus and let the students know about the party and how much God cares about them,” Raubinger says. “It’s a long flight from Marquette to Tulberg, but very worth it from what I was told by those who went last year.”
"Most alternative spring break trips inherently have social justice in the program, but we want to expand that and be intentional."
Another Tech Christian organization, His House, will once again send a group on a mission trip to Mexico. In past years, His House students have helped with home construction and built a church.
While many of Tech’s alternative spring breaks are annual affairs, a trip providing an “inner city” perspective is a new offering. The Social Justice Spring Break is defined as a “service trip” which will take eight students and two advisors to Memphis, Tennessee. The trip is a collaboration between the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and Student Leadership and Involvement.
Understanding the Inner City
Zack Rubinstein, assistant director of CDI, said the goal of the Social Justice Spring Break is to provide developmental experiences for the students attending.
“Most alternative spring break trips inherently have social justice in the program, but we want to expand that and be intentional,” he says. “With our trip, we have used our pre-trip meetings to talk about our individual privileged and underrepresented identities, segregation, desegregation and gentrification in the Memphis area, how we can use our privilege both in Memphis and back at Michigan Tech and what we can gain from this experience.”
Rubinstein hopes the trip can expose Tech students to experiences not available in the Keweenaw. “We’d like to have them come out of Memphis with a more developed perspective of populations they only see on TV, “ he explains.
He says there’s a good cross-section of undergraduate and graduate students and majors among the eight students participating. “We have a range of bio-informatics, psychology, mechanical engineering, social sciences, and rhetoric, theory and culture. We also have various genders, ages and races.”
Rubinstein says they’re working with Serve 901, a group whose mission is to partner college-student volunteers with service organizations in the Memphis area to facilitate interpersonal development and a renewed perspective of civic advocacy, interdependence and respect for diversity, through service-learning trips.
While in Memphis, the group will visit the National Civil Rights Museum. Activities during the week could include serving at a homeless shelter, working in a school garden, interacting with students at inner-city schools and working with a community development organization to clean blighted neighborhood properties.
Rubinstein says, “I really hope the students gain a more fully realized perspective of what an ‘inner-city’ is. Living way up in the U.P., many only see cities and their residents on television, often in negative news stories.”
He says his hope is that the trip opens student’s eyes to a different culture. “I want these students to talk to as many people as possible. We can think we know what it is like to live in the Memphis communities, but we will never really know unless we open our ears, listen to its residents and hear their lived experiences.”
In addition to working, evangelizing and spreading the message of STEM, some alternative spring break participants will get the thrill of a lifetime. Once again Tech’s Outdoor Adventure Program (OAP) is sponsoring what they call “Adventure Spring Breaks.”
One is a “Road Trip to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks and Mountain Biking in Moab, Utah.” The adventure includes camping, mountain bike riding and hiking through breath-taking scenery.
A second group will travel to Las Vegas, their launching point for camping, backpacking and exploring Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. These parks contain some iconic views of the southern Rocky Mountains.
The third group will canoe the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. This is the fifth year AOP has sponsored a canoe trip on a part of the Buffalo that can only be paddled during this time of the year. The group will explore waterfalls, like Hemmed-In-Hollow Falls and hike to iconic Whitaker Point.
A Keweenaw Stay-cation
And for a group of Tech students who are too far from home to consider a spring break visit, the University’s International Programs and Services office is sponsoring a “Stay-cation” featuring trips and activities around the Keweenaw for international students.
Michigan Tech’s Spring Break is March 4-12.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.