By Ada Statler
Over spring break, 189 participants and 34 trip leaders went on Stanford Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trips in locations both in the Bay Area and across the country. The students participated in a total of 17 different trips, each with its own student-planned theme.
A growing program
The program saw an increase of over 30 participants this year. Additionally, the number of trips offered increased from 15 to 17. This reflects requests from past ASB participants, who are eligible to propose a new trip for the following year.
“The program is definitely growing in size, and we hope to continue that trend,” said James Huynh ’15, the executive director of Stanford ASB.
Cecily Foote ’16, leader of the ASB trip “Beyond Organic: Down n’ Dirty with California’s Food System in Monterey Bay,” attributes part of this growth to increased publicity efforts by ASB online, in addition to the fliers put around dorms beginning in October.
“There was definitely a huge media push – we were on the Stanford instagram and are even on the Stanford homepage right now,” Foote said.
According to Foote, the program had more applicants this year than ever before. For her trip alone, Foote and her co-leader had to sort through over 50 applications for a trip capped at 12 participants.
Varying themes of service
Foote led one of three ASB trips that focused on food production; however, each took a different approach. While Foote and her co-leader focused on different types of food production, another trip focused on how farming can influence child health, while a third trip focused specifically on food production in urban areas.
Other common ASB themes included technology and innovation, education, democracy, immigration, health and identity. However, many of the trips such as “The Fruit of Their Labor: Migrant Health in California” or “The Silicon Classroom: Education Equity in a Changing Digital World” touched upon the intersections of many of these issues.
According to Alice Fang ’15, two-time leader of the Silicon Classroom trip, because the themes and curriculum are student-designed, they follow students’ interests particularly well and people feel passionate about pursuing the topic.
“I didn’t lead the trip because I already knew a lot about it, but because I wanted to learn a lot more, and I couldn’t think of a better way than ASB,” Fang said.
While Stanford is not the only university with an Alternative Break program, many schools tend to work with one organization for the entirety of the break. Stanford ASBs tend to tour different types of organizations – from schools to startups to NGOs – over the course of a week in various locations ranging from the Bay Area to South Dakota to Washington.
According to Fang, Stanford ASB is also unique in the approach it takes in framing service as a long term skill to develop.
“Stanford really thinks about service and learning combined,” Fang said. “When we were doing service on our trip, it wasn’t service for the sake of service. For example, with small workshops at local schools, it was about what it means to engage diverse students in an activity and what we can take away from that experience to learn more in the future.”
While Fang and Foote both wanted to design and lead their own trips after participating in an ASB, other students choose to continue at the participant level.
“One of our participants went on his third trip as a junior,” Foote said. “He said that for him it’s the only opportunity to meet so many organizations in such a short time and see different ways of working in fields that interest him.”
Fang said that what makes Stanford ASB special for her are the added benefits of working and learning in a small group of peers. According to Fang, most ASB trips participate in team bonding exercises such as “spotlights” at night.
“Based on some of our feedback forms, hearing people’s life stories and the diversity of their experiences is really interesting and something our participants enjoy,” Fang said. “It’s so much different than a class where you might learn some of the same things.”
Contact Ada Throckmorton at adastat ‘at’ stanford.edu.