This month, 55 Carleton students will spend their reading week break building houses, working at U.S. national parks and helping out at an Ottawa elementary school as part of an initiative organized by the Student Experience Office.
“Students provide service, learn from the community and their peers, and get real-world experience that can help guide and direct their future actions, morals and beliefs,” says Joe Lipsett, the service learning and leadership co-ordinator at the SEO. Lipsett also oversees the Alternative Spring Break program.
“It’s an opportunity for students to engage with the material they’re learning in the classroom and their lives in the real world,” he says, adding it’s often an eye-opening experience.
This is the first year in the program’s four-year history that participants have three options, Lipsett says, with projects in Florida, Alabama and Ottawa.
The Florida trip has an environmental focus, with students heading to the Everglades and Biscayne national parks. Their work will include weeding trails and working in a recycling plant. The students going to Mobile, Alabama, are working with Habitat for Humanity on a community housing project, Lipsett says.
Over at Cambridge Street Public School, Carleton students will be assisting kids with a variety of Olympic-themed projects, such as arts and crafts and research, explains principal Kim Nelson.
“It’s exciting and encouraging to see young people interested in working with, learning about and helping the community,” she says. “We’re grateful to them and for them.”
Lipsett explains that Alternative Spring Break is considered a “service” rather than volunteerism because the participants get something out of it, too.
In the past, some students have even changed the focus of their degrees based on their experiences.
“These are people who are at the beginning of their lives and they can go out and make a difference in the world. For me, it’s very, very exciting to see the students sort of transition,” adds Lipsett, who also participates.
As for Lipsett, he’s earned a BA and MA in film studies from Carleton and is currently completing his PhD in Canadian studies — in addition to working as a contract instructor in the film department.
“I’m actually there (on the trip) and I’m participating in all the activities. So, I end up being that guy who has to answer the tough questions,” he says. “But I’m also a participant as well, so the week ends up being (an eye-opening experience) for me too.”