Nineteen UB students spent their winter breaks unlike most of the UB population. While many students returned home to spend a month relaxing with friends and family after finals week, these kids took a different route.
They participated in UB's Alternative Winter Break – leaving their homes for one week in order to save someone else's in the bayou of Louisiana, or becoming familiar with a foreign culture in the Italian countryside.
Down in Louisiana, people continue to struggle from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The wetlands are slowly becoming ruined as waves from the boats damage the coastline and the wetlands lose their ability to absorb floodwaters, according to www.marietta.edu.
UB took part in battling this natural disaster.
"We put 500 donated Christmas trees into wooden crates and got into boats in the bayou," said Emma Starkman, a senior business major. "We then threw the crates with the trees in them into the bayou. That helps lessen the effects of the damage coming from the wave action that comes from boats in the water."
For one week in January, the group worked in cooperation with the Bayou Grace and LUMCON, two organizations dedicated toward various environmental and educational services in the wetland area, in order to better the post-Katrina environment in New Orleans.
Starkman has always been interested in environmental issues and she knew that attending Alternative Winter Break would be her opportunity to make a difference while working with those who are both directly and indirectly affected by the wetland loss.
The group had the chance to not only learn about the culture in the wetlands, but also to interact with the locals and get one-on-one time socializing with them.
According to Starkman, many people in New Orleans expressed their appreciation for the contributions from the group.
"We were at a bar to [try a] Cajun dish and we told some of the locals why we were down there helping," said Phil Tucciarone, a sophomore chemical engineering major. "Without even asking what we had ordered, they picked up our check."
The volunteers had the opportunity to talk with New Orleans natives – many of whom were college and high school students during the time Katrina hit.
"They were out of school and displaced for 30 or 40 days minimum," Tucciarone said. "They underplay it – it wasn't like a sob story. They said it was just a part of their life, and it sucks, but they are still passionate about the Cajun culture and thankful for those who help to preserve it."
While the students in Louisiana benefitted from a week of education and community service, those that traveled to Italy came home with a completely different experience.
The trip was offered as a seminar called, "Roman Archaeology and Reclaiming Ancient Roman Culture." It was more like a study abroad program than a philanthropy trip. Students studied in Italy for a total of three weeks.
The tour guide that led the group through their adventures in Italy was Professor Bradley Ault, a classics professor at UB and expert on ancient ruins. Ault brought them to locations in Rome and Naples, guiding them through significant archaeological sites and teaching them about literary text relative to the Ancient Roman world.
Their studies and experiences will be the subject of a paper due at the end of the Spring 2012 semester. By completing the trip and the paper successfully, those who participated will earn credit toward graduation with the equivalence of either an Honors seminar or a study abroad experience – whichever they choose.
"It has been one of the greatest experiences of my life," said Steven Coffed, a Presidential Scholar and freshman engineering and applied sciences major.
Coffed said the trip introduced him to a world of travel that he never knew existed prior to this experience.
"I wanted to extend my views of the world," Coffed said. "My family traveled very little when I was a child, and considering that I would like to study abroad extensively in the future, I thought that this trip would be a good introduction to becoming a world traveler."
The students that left their family and friends for three weeks out of the four that UB schedules for break found that the time away was worth the journey they embarked.
"I missed my family and friends," Coffed said. "[But] I knew I'd see them again with many stories to tell. It will be a little tough jumping right back into school after a rather exhausting experience, but hey, you can sleep when you're dead."