STORM LAKE, IA (04/05/2017) (readMedia)-- Forty Buena Vista University (BVU) students, faculty and staff participated in four AWOL (Alternative Week of Off-site Learning) trips during spring break, enabling them to volunteer their time and service to a variety of people and programs.
AWOL has sent more than 729 volunteers and completed an estimated 33,756 hours of service worldwide, furthering its mission to immerse students in different cultures, heighten social awareness and advocate life-long social action through service on a local, regional and international level.
To ensure the AWOL program's long-term impact on the student and the Storm Lake community, students research their service areas, identify a local need, serve to understand it better and address it using new skills learned on their AWOL trips and engaging in local service projects.
"AWOL is a wonderful opportunity for students to develop leadership skills, find hidden passions and to serve alongside others to build capacity and to meet local needs with community partners," said Dr. Ashley Farmer-Hanson, assistant dean for student life and director of civic engagement. "The program is designed to not only serve over spring break away from Storm Lake, but for students to apply what they are learning about the social issue and to take action to solve it on a local level."
This year's trips focused on treating injured animals in Hubert, N.C.; sustainable social and economic development in Los Fierros, Nicaragua; tackling poverty and serving youth in Eagle Butte, S.D.; and social, economic, environmental and racial justice issues in New Orleans.
"Service is an avenue to utilize the skills being taught inside the classroom and to apply them for the common good," added Farmer-Hanson, who also served as a site advisor on the trip to Hubert, N.C. "I'm really proud of how the students have developed into leaders who see that they can make a difference in the world and this program gives them an avenue to explore and take risks that end up being life changing."
Here are more details about the trips and a selection of comments from 2017 AWOL participants:
Animal Advocacy and Environmentalism
BVU students traveled to Hubert, N.C., and volunteered at Possumwood Acres, a non-profit wildlife sanctuary that specializes in the rehabilitation, care and treatment of injured animals. The BVU participants' first stop was Lynnwood Park Zoo in Jacksonville, N.C., where they helped sand zoo paths, feed monkeys and educate visitors about the animals. Next, the group headed to Possumwood Acres where they fed and tended to sick or injured animals, helped with projects around the facility and learned the daily routines of the sanctuary. In addition, the participants had the opportunity to learn about and experience the culture of the area by taking a boat to Shackleford Banks, which is a barrier island located off the coast of North Carolina and is known for its wild horse population.
"The experience allowed me to use my abilities to serve others," said Emily Kim, a junior biology major from Fairmont, Minn. and one of the student site leaders for the trip. "More specifically, I was impacted by the passion I saw from the people in charge of the service sites. Their passion stood out to me and drove my desire to serve. It also encouraged me to find my passion in life."
Others students who participated in the animal advocacy AWOL trip were Ryan Mellott, a senior biology major from Westminster, Colo.; Morgan Langan, a senior environmental science major from O'Neill, Neb.; Rachel Novotny, a senior biology major from Carson; Brittany Tillman, a freshman biology major from Durand, Mich.; Meghan Bissen, a junior biology major from Harlan; Amelia Evenson, a junior chemistry education major from Lake Mills; and Steven Smith, a senior history education major from Blairsburg.
Advisors for the trip included Farmer-Hanson and Jamie Schoenherr, instructor of exercise science at BVU.
Economic Development in Marginalized Communities
BVU students also traveled to Los Fierros, Nicaragua, where they worked with the Panorama Service Expedition, an organization that promotes sustainable social and economic development projects. Throughout the week, the participants immersed themselves in the area's culture and worked on a farm alongside locals helping prepare grounds for planting coffee trees.
Kassidy Chandler, a junior exercise science major from Casey and one of the student site leaders, said the trip to Nicaragua broadened her outlook on life. "The experience opened my eyes to the hardships and challenges the locals overcome on a daily basis. They do not have the leisure of driving to work; some of them walk over two hours to get to work to provide money and food for their family. It taught me to appreciate the little things that I get that others may not."
Others students who participated in the social and economic development AWOL trip were Abby Ross, a junior social work and psychology double major from Council Bluffs; Katie Puls, a sophomore psychology major from Geneseo, Ill.; Jaelyn Olson, a senior chemistry major from Eldora; Tiffany Hull, a senior criminology/criminal justice and psychology double major from Perry; Emily Van Donselaar, a sophomore social work major from New Sharon; Olivia Tuel, a senior biology major from Clarence; Lindsay Blackford, a senior psychology and Spanish double major from Council Bluffs; and Dominic Hess-Jones, a freshman computer science major from Lee's Summit, Mo.
Advisors for this experience were Ken Meissner, director of spiritual life at BVU, and Mike Walker, university counselor for BVU's Office of Student Affairs.
Tackling Poverty and Serving Youth
BVU students concerned with helping fight the war on poverty traveled to Eagle Butte, S.D., where they volunteered with the Cheyenne River Youth Project, a youth and family services organization that is tailored to meet the needs of indigenous people. The participants spent the week at a youth center and helped with the organization's Passion for Fashion Dress Drive, a program that accepts dress and accessory donations so area youth are able to attend prom. While there, the group helped set up the event's venue, organize donations, serve food and help attendees pick out apparel.
"It was so inspiring to see the impact that Passion For Fashion had on girls," said Taylor Loy, a junior political science major from Indianola and one of the student site leaders for the trip. "Many people ask how just one week of service can really make any lasting effects, but for me it's not just about the large-scale impact. Volunteering is always a positive thing, and no matter how small or seemingly insignificant the service is, there is always some sort of positive impact, whether we are able to see it or not."
Others students who participated in the youth and poverty AWOL experience include Tyler Puls, a senior history education major from Geneseo, Ill.; Tatum Hoadley, a sophomore biology major from Alta; Oscar Perez, a senior Spanish major from Storm Lake; Presely Schumate, a junior accounting, business and Spanish triple major from Milo; Kathryn Tyykila, a sophomore elementary education major from Canby, Minn.; Rosalind Macho, a freshman political science major from Melrose Park, Ill.; and Kalab Kibret, a freshman biology major from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Advisors for the trip were Mark Shea, director of student success at BVU, and Emmanuel Amon, BVU AmeriCorps VISTA.
Got Social Justice?
BVU students traveled to New Orleans and worked with the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR), an organization that acts as a liaison for marginalized communities and promotes social, economic, environmental and racial justice. Throughout the week, CELSJR put BVU participants in touch with a variety of community organizations. First, members of the group tended to fields at Grow Dat Youth Farm and helped spread the word about the effects that the proposed Industrial Canal lock expansion could have on community members alongside the organization, A Community Voice.
"The AWOL experience really allows you to come face-to-face with problems that many communities go through," said student site leader, Amanda Miley, a sophomore biology and chemistry double major from Independence, Mo. "We are able to learn about issues and communities, and then work alongside people toward a common goal."
The BVU participants also volunteered at the Pray the Word, Say the Word youth camp and helped prep reading materials to be shipped to the incarcerated at Louisiana Books 2 Prisoners.
"My favorite part was meeting so many people and hearing their stories," added Miley. "I like to look at service as working with people and learning from each other. People who partake in service give a lot, but they are also forever transformed."
Others students who participated in the environmental and racial justice issues AWOL trip include Luke Hastie, a senior criminology/criminal justice major from Indianola, Jasmin Sarceno Cortez, a senior environmental science major from Perry; Nahomi Estrada Mata, a senior business major from Storm Lake; Kelsey Lange, a senior distributive major from Hopkinton; Kristina Grossman, a senior distributive major from Glidden; and Alyssa Donnelly, a sophomore strategic public relations major from Council Bluffs.
Advisors for this AWOL experience were Jamii Claiborne, associate professor of digital media, and Lori Berglund, assistant director of career and personal development at BVU.
About Buena Vista University
Since 1891, Buena Vista University has prepared students for lifelong success and blends liberal arts with real-world applications. Our traditional campus on the shores of Storm Lake hosts students in a variety of majors and pre-professional programs, including elementary, secondary, and special education; business and accounting; and biological and chemical sciences. Our 16 degree-completion locations, online, and graduate programs expand student potential with a pace and academic rigor designed for working adults and a variety of class formats that make scheduling even more convenient. With an average scholarship of more than 50 percent off of tuition, BVU is an affordable option for all students. Visit www.bvu.edu.