Students discover the spring break alternative

Relaxing over spring break? That's old school.

For the third consecutive year, a handful of Radford University students chose an alternative to warm weather and beaches by opting to participate in university-supported opportunities to get involved in community, social and environmental projects.

RU's Office of Career Services and Community Engagement's Alternative Spring Break annually provides students with unique opportunities to immerse themselves in short-term experiences that can change the lives of the participating students and the people and communities they help.

This year, RU offered four alternative spring break (March 8-16) opportunities: an environmental restoration in the Hiwassee River Watershed, western N.C.; a wildlife rehabilitation on the rural coast of North Carolina; an urban renewal and local sustainable development in Washington, D.C.; and a mountaintop removal site restoration in Pike County, Ky.  All trips were partially funded through the Scholar-Citizen Initiative

Tim Filbert, assistant director of Community Engagement, organized three of those trips this year and also escorted 10 students to Washington D.C., to work with Think Local First D.C., an organization dedicated to helping revitalize businesses and neighborhoods in the city.

The students worked with the organization's director, RU alumna Stacey Price '99, M.S. '01, by going from business to business and collecting data through one-on-one interviews. The students also worked in a soup kitchen for an afternoon and had discussions with business owners and entrepreneurs from the D.C. area.


Julio Stephens, Kelly Kavanagh, Andrea Colon (student trip leader), Alyssa Quilling, and Matthew Wertz take a break from litter cleanup in the Hiwassee River Watershed in Andrews, NC.

Jenna McChesney, a senior psychology major from Salem, served as the group's student leader. She participated in the D.C. excursion because of her career interest in industrial/organization psychology. She said she was surprised to learn about the difficulties of being a business owner in Washington, D.C.

"I wasn't expecting it to be as much of a struggle for people to own their own local business in such a highly populated place as D.C."

She also said working in and walking through the locations dispelled stereotypes she had heard about some of the neighborhoods.

"What shocked me the most was one of the neighborhoods we visited, Anacostia. It has a reputation for being dangerous and a high crime area," McChesney explained. "However, we quickly learned how outdated these misconceptions were. It was probably one of the friendliest neighborhoods we visited. It was neat to see even our opinions change about it as the day progressed there."

RU Sustainability Coordinator Julio Stephens took a group of four RU students to Western North Carolina during spring break week to work on an environmental restoration project with the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition. The group worked alongside two other groups at the watershed, primarily to remove invasive species of plants.

Andrea Colon, a junior from Smithfield majoring in Recreation, Parks and Tourism, said she went on the trip to gain experience working in environmental restoration and conservation. "Someday, I hope to enter the field of ecotourism and help communities attain a good level of sustainability within their tourism industry," Colon said. "My experience was really wonderful."

The excursion wasn't all work for the group. They visited the Cherokee County Historical Museum, explored hiking trails, and learned about the New Year's Eve Possum Drop that annually rings in the New Year in Brasstown, N.C.

Students working with Think Local First D.C.

Students working with Think Local First D.C.

RU faculty members Rick Roth, Theresa Burriss, Matthew Close and Christine Small led a group of 15 students to Breaks Interstate Park where they worked with the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the nonprofit group, Green Forests Work (GFW).  The group planted more than 2,000 trees on a former surface mine site in Pike County, Ky. 

"The ARRI and GFW have as a goal to bring back forests with native tree species on these former mine sites," Roth explained. "It's expensive and so they rely heavily on volunteer labor. Students also learned about surface mining, ecology and Appalachian communities while doing this service project. 

Another alternative spring break trip took students to Hubert, N.C. for the Possumwood Wildlife Sanctuary service project. Led by Meghan Worrell, director of the Teaching Resources Center, students applied basic wildlife rehabilitation skills with animals while also learning about the natural history of each species through field observations of coastal flora and fauna.

There, students cleaned animal cages and fed opossums, raptors, ducks, crows, goats, squirrels and numerous other animals, said participant Shanellie Estrella, a senior biology major from Virginia Beach. The work included feeding yogurt to opossums and bathing a couple of tortoises, she said.

"Some of these trips may not be related to a student's major, but we want students to think and learn about themselves through these experiences, who they are in respect to these social issues," Filbert said. "What are they learning about themselves and what unique talents and skills they can offer."

Mar 26, 2014