UB students go on alternative spring break trips to help build community


Katherine Sierra, a senior legal studies major, said that she wants to go to the Dominican Republic this spring break to give back to her native country.

Sierra and about 15 other students will be partnering with Outreach 360, a nonprofit volunteer organization, to teach students ages 6-12 in the Dominican Republic.

“As a Dominican UB student who was born in the Dominican Republic and having received my early education on the island, I wanted to give back to my native land,” she said.

UB offers several alternative spring break programs through the Office of Student Engagement, and will send students to places like the Dominican Republic, Charlottesville, Virginia, Salma, Alabama and even the local Buffalo community this spring break for volunteer work, from building affordable housing to teaching children.

Students will be working with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the Freedom Foundation, Outreach360 and some local organizations.

Students have to pay to take the trips, with prices ranging from as cheap as $200 to volunteer in Buffalo, to as expensive as $1,600 for the Dominican Republic trip.

Becky Rose, a graduate assistant for Humanity Engagement, said although students have to pay for their trips, the university puts forth some money to help support students and cut costs for the trips. The Office of Student Engagement also offers need-based scholarships so some students do not have to pay the full amount.

“Each location costs a different amount depending on where it is. International trip will cost a little bit more because of the flight but the local trips are not too much,” Rose said. “The Buffalo trip is $200 and that’s just for food and transportation purposes.”

She said that the staff leaders are assorted staff and faculty members from across the university that are passionate about the work that alternative spring break trips do.

Rose said that student leaders are undergraduate students that have participated in the alternative spring break trip before and liked the experience so much that they wanted to be leaders the following year.

Not every student who wishes can go on the trips, as there is a competitive application process. Students submit applications that get reviewed by student leaders to see if the student has relevant experiences or is currently studying something that works well with the purpose of the trip.

“Then we have an interview process where hundreds of students from the UB community come and interview for these slots and then we whittle them down to about 10 for each group,” Rose said.

The deadline for this year’s alternative spring break trips has already passed.

The Office of Student Engagement offers a course that helps the students selected develop their leadership skills and shows techniques that will help them interact with adults or children that they come in contact with during their trip.

“This semester we’ve been bonding as a group to get to know each other before going to the DR and having to work together to help teach the children,” Sierra said.

However, most alternative spring breakers will be staying in the states.

Kristina Galang, a senior occupational science major, and Riley Munger, a senior communication major, will both be student leaders for their upcoming trip to Charlottesville, Virginia. They will be assisting Habitat for Humanity with its affordable housing project.

“Its really a growing experience for a lot of these students who don’t have any experience working with people from different backgrounds,” Galang said.

A handful of the students going to Charlottesville are currently studying environmental science and are looking to enhance their own understanding of their major by gaining actual work experience.

Rose said there are also a large number of international students staying in Buffalo to volunteer with several local community organizations.

“They’re going to get a very different view of the Buffalo community,” Rose said. “They’re going to be able to stay here and not take class but just every day experience a new part of the greater Buffalo area.”

Rose said the trips are more than just work experience. Rather, they can be life changing.

“Students who have participated in alternative break programs before have had fantastic experiences that made them think more critically about their environment and how they interact with their communities,” Rose said.

Tomas Olivier is a features editor and can be reached at tomas.olivier@ubspectrum.com.