ISU student learns alternative spring break leadership skills thanks to scholarship

AMES, Iowa - Iowa State University's Alternative Breaks program is getting a boost with some help from an enthusiastic graduate student and a supportive nonprofit organization.

Break Away: The Alternative Break Connection Inc., Atlanta, Ga., awarded Iowa State a scholarship to send a student to a conference in the Dominican Republic to learn how to train alternative break trip leaders.

Alternative breaks are immersive community service projects for college students. At Iowa State, the four-year-old Alternative Breaks program strives to use this community service experience as a springboard into lifelong active citizenship where the community becomes a priority in an individual's life decisions, says Jennifer Garrett, leadership and service coordinator for the Student Activities Center.

Iowa State was one of six schools selected to send a student leader to training sponsored by Break Away, a national nonprofit association that enhances and supports the development of quality alternative break programs. According to their programs director Samantha Giacobozzi, the organization considered several variables to determine which programs to support, including location, program history, student/staff, need and ability to leverage support.

Psychology student Jeritt Tucker, Nevada, was selected to attend the Break Away conference, "Rural Education in a Developing Country," June 19-26, in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic. He leaves Friday and will return June 26.

Tucker, who graduated from Iowa State in May, will enter the university's combined master's-doctoral degree program in counseling this fall. He was a trip leader for a 2010 alternative spring break week at Hopewell, an Ohio nonprofit therapeutic community for adults with mental illness. And he wants to expand his leadership service in Iowa State's program.

"When I heard a friend give a presentation on her alternative spring break trip a couple of years ago, I realized that I wanted to get involved," Tucker said. "She spoke about how meaningful it was, and how much the trip had impacted her life. Everyone who has participated says it's a life-changing experience."

A site leader is "really in charge of the trip," Tucker said. It's a yearlong commitment that involves not only selecting the specific spring break service project, location and students, but also conducting weekly meetings to discuss the project, students' roles and issues such as risk management and fundraising.

Tucker will live and work at Orphanage Outreach during the conference, which will focus on rural education in a developing country. He will work with the summer learning camps for orphans and disadvantaged children of the community, while probing challenges faced by young students in a developing country. During the mornings, conference participants will participate in sessions such as recruitment and selections, facilitation and group process, reflection and active citizenship. During the afternoons they will work with the orphans.

Tucker hopes to bring back ideas that can help shape the future of Iowa State's program. He will serve as site leader trainer on a new executive board--"a core group of people who are invested in Alternative Breaks."

"A week is such a short time to accomplish much on these projects. They are really more for students to expand their horizons, develop longer goals and implement service into their lifestyle for the rest of their lives," Tucker said.

The scholarship, valued at $700, covers the cost of registration, food and lodging during the conference. Iowa State is covering Tucker's airfare.

"I'm pretty fortunate, because otherwise I couldn't have gone."