Using Winter Break to learn and help others

Students, faculty and staff used Winter Break to serve, travel and study across the U.S. and abroad.

Winter Break in Little Rock

By Sarah Hanan
SMU News

Students, faculty and staff are taking advantage of winter break to serve, travel and study throughout the United States and abroad. They are blogging about their experiences at SMU Adventures.  Their trips include:

Alternative Winter Break

Students and staff members served in two cities in December as part of the Alternative Break program:

  • In Little Rock, Arkansas, nine students and staff volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and explored the issues of homelessness and affordable housing. (Read their blog)
  • In New Orleans, 11 students and staff volunteered with the nonprofit organization Phoenix, helping rebuild houses and community sites. (Read their blog

 “Alternative Breaks give students a chance to use their time off to improve a community,” says Matthew Gayer, the director of the Alternative Breaks program and a junior majoring in public policy, economics and political science. “Many students say the experiences also improve themselves. For one week, they travel to a new place and do a new kind of work that changes their lives.”

The Alternative Breaks program is accepting applications for its eight spring break trips. Learn more here.

SMU Human Rights, Poland

The Embrey Human Rights Program took students and staff (Read their blog) on a tour to Poland in December. Led by program director Rick Halperin, the group visited World War II concentration camps and memorials, as well as cemeteries and synagogues.

“The participants in our trip visit sites where almost 4 million people perished,” Halperin says. “We have an obligation to remember what happened in those places, as well as the reasons why it happened and was allowed to happen, because we who are alive today have the responsibility to at least try to prevent it from happening again.”

The program’s spring break trip, March 12-20, will include visits to numerous Holocaust sites throughout Germany.

Communications, New Orleans

J-Term on the Gulf Coast
On The Coast

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   • The Lessons Learned Blog
Twelve students (Read their blog) in the J-Term course "Environmental Communications: Lessons Learned from the BP Oil Spill" are taking a 10-day journey to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to examine the communication strategies surrounding the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

“Almost nine months after the BP Oil spill, people on the coast are still reeling from the effects,” says Nina Flournoy, senior lecturer of communication studies in Meadows School of the Arts. “The timing is advantageous. Everyone down there – from government and media to nonprofits and folks on the front lines of the spill – continue to be immersed in the situation but can offer perspective and lessons learned.”

The group is meeting with environmental activists, scholars and key communication leaders in media, government, business, nonprofit and public relations organizations in the region. They also are joining marine scientists to explore some of the most affected wetlands and barrier islands.

SMU Human Rights, Arizona

Eight students are visiting the border and desert areas of Tucson and Yuma, Arizona, during J-Term with SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program. Led by human rights director Rick Halperin, associate director Patricia H. Davis and program coordinator Sherry Aikman, they are studying migrant issues and human rights abuses along the U.S. border.

“This is a new trip for us,” Halperin says. “These issues will be with us for years to come, and as such, our program intends to bring our students to the border to better learn about what is happening there. It also will allow them to get involved in the struggle to end human rights violations.”

The group is spending time with the minister-founder of Humane Borders, regional detectives and medical examiners, U.S. Border Patrol agents and representatives from the Department of Homeland Security.

world globeSMU Adventures features SMU students and faculty blogging about their research, service and travels around the world and on campus.

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