Penn State Intercom......March 6, 2003

Students turn break into service week


By Allison Kessler
Public Information spring_break01

Spring break is just days away, and though many students are packing their bathing suits and beach towels for a week of relaxation, hundreds of Penn Staters are filling their suitcases with tools and textbooks, in preparation for a week of service and learning during the week of March 10.

One group of students, Penn State's chapter of Engineers without Frontiers (EWF), will send students to El Salvador and Jamaica, where they will study, design and construct solutions for poverty-stricken areas in collaboration with the University of Central America in San Salvador and the University of Technology in Jamaica.

spring_break_02Some of these students will visit a town in El Salvador, where wounded war veterans are forced to wade through chest-deep waters to gain access to their agricultural fields. This EWF group will undertake preliminary studies to help solve the problem and will return in May to put its findings to work. Another group will assess earthquake-damaged housing and undertake measures to ensure a safer living environment.

The EWF groups heading to Jamaica will design and prototype a portable milk-drying system that will allow farmers to powder milk on-site to alleviate problems of spoilage during transit. While in Jamaica, EWF students also will design anaerobic digesters to produce methane using poultry waste.

These projects mark the first such efforts by the Penn State Chapter of Engineers Without Frontiers.

"Real-life, problem-solving opportunities, as provided by Engineers Without Frontiers, allow students to develop and exercise initiative, judgment and creativity while emphasizing the application of the engineering method, the capability for critical thinking, teamwork and the ability to communicate clearly, " said Thomas Colledge, professor of agricultural and biological engineering and program developer. "From a purely cultural perspective, it is an invaluable experience the students will benefit from for the rest of their lives. They view their lives, their career choices and their world differently following such an experience."

Dick Shafer's sustainable tourism development class is traveling to Jamaica as well, but will address an entirely different island topic -- tourism. The class will analyze the island's hospitality firms' ability to attract and cater to its growing number of eco-tourists. The group will comb the popular Seven Mile Beach to survey hundreds of vacationing spring-breakers about their trip expectations and will analyze the results upon their return to campus. Eight island resorts, the Jamaica Tourist Board and the Negril Coral Reef Preservations Society also are on the class' itinerary.

Even though students in Penn State's Alternative Spring Break Club won't have studies on their minds this spring break, they plan on learning some important life lessons. The ASB club is devoted to helping members volunteer, make a difference and grow as citizens while exploring pressing community issues during spring break. Each year the club facilitates trips to cities across the country that allow Penn Staters to work diligently to make life better for the less fortunate. engineers_wo_frontiers

One of the Alternative Spring Break Club sponsored trips will travel north to New York City, where students will work with AIDS patients. They will prepare and deliver meals for patients who are too weak to leave their homes and visit an AIDS clinic that focuses on alternative therapy.

Lauren Jones, a student going on the New York trip, looks forward to an eye-opening experience.

"I wanted to spend my spring break doing something I would look back on and feel was worthwhile, not only for me, but for others," she said. "As much as I would enjoy the beach with a bunch of other college students, I feel like there is so much more to be gained from helping others."

Other Alternative Spring Break Club groups will travel on service trips to Washington, D.C., rural Virginia and Chicago.

Penn State's Habitat for Humanity chapter also is sponsoring a number of service spring break trips. Club members will spend their week away from school building houses in towns in Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina. The students are prepared to paint, strip wallpaper, frame houses, dig ditches and landscape for needy families.

A cross-disciplinary honors class at Penn State Fayette -- Science, Society and Technology in the Age of Jack the Ripper -- will spend its spring break expanding on course material, as it takes its subject matter across the Atlantic to London, where the class will see first-hand the locations of the infamous Jack the Ripper murders. The class has been studying up on a variety of topics related to the case.

Eighteen different lecturers have contributed to the class in preparation for the big trip. Two such lectures, "An Analysis of Media Coverage of the Ripper Murders" and "The Insanity Defense," demonstrate the course's inclusion of a broad spectrum of disciplines. While in London, the students' course work is sure to come to life.

"I am really looking forward to the guided tour of Whitechapel, featuring the actual sites where the Jack the Ripper murders were committed. I understand that our guide for that tour, Donald Rumbelow, is one of the foremost experts on the subject," said student Dana Duncan.

Another class, which enticed 70 students at Penn State Delaware County to enroll, has spent the early part of the spring semester researching the history and culture of Seville, Spain. Come spring break, the group will tour its subject matter in the streets of Seville.

But England and Spain won't be the only European countries Penn State groups will visit. Penn State Erie's College Choir will sing its way across Italy. The group will perform in the refurbished Sala degli of the Trinita Dei Monti School, located at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome, and in venues in Florence and Venice.

"I am so excited about the entire trip," said Carrie Egnosak, a student in the choir. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will challenge us, help us to grow as musicians and no doubt provide us with some wonderful memories."


Allison Kessler can be reached at