March 21, 2012
|Students participate in beach clean-up on the Florida Panhandle. Photo by Mary Ibarrola '12.
When Brittany Hollister ’12 thinks about spring break, it’s never about which beach she’ll visit. In fact, it’s been three years since the biochemistry and molecular biology major spent the time off devoted to working on her tan. Hollister would much rather tackle a social issue.
In 2010, she visited Guatemala to dive into the world of fair-trade coffee production. The following year, she traveled to Chicago to learn about public health. This year, Hollister headed to the Florida Panhandle to examine issues of environmental degradation and water conservation.
Alternative Spring Breaks (ASB) have become a particular passion for the senior, who took on the role of student facilitator for the Panhandle Water Conservation immersion March 3-10, 2012. Hollister, along with 11 students and co-facilitators: Director of Residential Life Leon Hayner and Study Abroad Coordinator Dawn Wharram, traveled six hours to Port Saint Joe, Florida where they checked into their rustic cabins at the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve.
“We were there to learn about the ways the oil spill affected the Panhandle but also to experience the unique habitats of the area, which are home to plants and animals that don’t live anywhere else in the world,” explained Hollister. The group divided their time between exploring the environment and doing their part to conserve it by participating in clean-up projects at several different sites near the preserve.
“We were doing some really hard work,” said Wharram, “but there wasn’t any grimacing or complaining. These students were really great about embracing it all. I was so incredibly impressed by their work ethic.”
This was the first time Wharram had participated in an ASB and she found the experience to be incredibly powerful. “Working side-by-side with the students was amazing. The enthusiasm and genuine care for what we were doing was so evident. I was very proud to see what our Rollins students are capable of.”
According to Hayner, the group’s ability to immediately see the impact of their hard work made the trip all the more rewarding. “We did several days of beach clean-up, and one particular day when we were in Panama City, we collected six bags of garbage along a half-mile stretch of beach,” he recalled. “Not only did we feel the hard work, but we could see garbage we collected and look at the newly cleaned stretch of coastline.”
Not all students are as enthusiastic about ASBs as Hollister, but like Rebecca Bowden ’15, they eventually come around. “At first I was hesitant about what we were going out to the Buffer to do, as well as the group I was going with,” said Bowden. “But as the trip wore on, the group got to be more of a family and I began to realize the importance of all the service we were doing. At the end of the ASB, I could personally reflect back on the trip. We not only became closer as a group but also helped improve the environment around us.”
This is exactly the sort of experience Assistant Director of Community Engagement Meredith Hein hopes all ASB participants have. In the five years since ASBs were launched, more than 250 students have participated in various weeklong immersion trips.
“These immersive experiences allow participants to step outside of their personal level of comfort and begin to explore and question some of life’s greatest unknowns,” Hein said, who was thrilled to recently hear that Breakaway, the national organization that oversees alternative break programs, ranked Rollins #1 in terms of overall percentage of ASB participants based on campus size. “The people they meet, the friends they make, and the impact they feel they have on their community all play a part in allowing these students to grasp who they are and who they want to be.”
By Kristen Manieri