Service Learning and Student Breaks at Auburn

Auburn University
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By Shorelight Team
Last updated on August 4, 2023

College service projects create valuable experiential education for international students. Auburn University’s recent winter break trip to DC offered volunteer opportunities and out-of-the-classroom learning.

Auburn University

Four Auburn students jump in celebration on the Washington Mall after completing their service project.

Breaks during the school year are a great time for college students in the US to explore new cities, try something new in the city where they live, or take an opportunity to participate in college service-learning projects. 

The Alternative Student Break program at Auburn University places teams of college students in various communities to participate in community service and experiential learning projects over break periods during the school year, such as spring break and winter break. Alternative Student Break trips allow participants to immerse themselves in diverse environments and provide opportunities to discuss and understand social issues in a deeper way. 

Over the winter break in December 2019, Auburn Global partnered with Alternative Student Breaks on a service-learning experience in Washington, DC. Auburn Global is a first-year program at Auburn University designed to support international student success. One Auburn Global instructor, Patrick Maestas, seven Auburn Global students, and several American students attended the trip, during which they volunteered at the DC Central Kitchen, which fights hunger, and an organization called A Wider Circle, which combats poverty. They also managed to fit in some sightseeing during their time in the nation’s capital by visiting the Lincoln Memorial and Library of Congress

Volunteering at DC Central Kitchen

During the trip, students spent some time volunteering at DC Central Kitchen. Volunteers at the DC Central Kitchen are hunger fighters who play a key role in transforming what is considered food waste to healthy, balanced meals for the surrounding community. During their time at DC Central Kitchen, students washed, cut, and prepared food to be served in the kitchen located on the first floor of the facility.

“We spent a day at DC Central Kitchen, which was about two minutes from where we stayed,” Maestas said. “I found out later on that, located above the kitchen where we worked was a section where people eat and where people sleep. Some of the people we worked with were homeless and at one point and they also came to Central Kitchen for food.”

The more time the team spent working in the kitchen, the more they learned about how Central Kitchen changes lives. Maestas shared, “While we were in the kitchen, some volunteers told a story about how one man and his son were homeless, so they used to eat at DC Central Kitchen. The man started volunteering there and gained skills in the kitchen and now he’s working there. Everyone we worked with had a story.”  

“My favorite part was when we went to Central Kitchen where we prepared some food for the locals,” said Michael, an Auburn Global student from China. His main goal of attending this Alternative Student Break trip was to “…volunteer and go to sites to see what people really need.” And this trip allowed him to do exactly that.

The value gained from this trip far exceeded brushing up on cooking skills. During their time at DC Central Kitchen, students played an active role in positively impacting the cycle of hunger and poverty through their time and actions.

While breaks provide great opportunities for volunteer projects and experiential learning, students can find ways to plug into local volunteering efforts and experience the many benefits that come along with volunteer work throughout the year. 

Service Learning and College Service Projects at Auburn

At Auburn University, students can participate in year-round volunteer work through a student-led organization called IMPACT. Volunteer opportunities are abundant through IMPACT, which boasted almost 10,000 volunteer hours for the 2017-18 school year. More than 60 IMPACT project leaders help coordinate service projects across 16 project locations on a weekly basis. Through IMPACT, students can choose a volunteer category including food, elderly, kids, animals/nature, and more. Each category offers several service sites where students can participate in service learning. 

Trips like those offered though Alternative Student Breaks and opportunities for continuous, regular community service efforts can not only benefit others in need, they can also broaden students’ perspectives and lead to new friendships and personal discoveries.

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