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FEATURE OF THE WEEK

MIT Alternative Spring Break

By Aaron D. Mihalik
STAFF REPORTER

While many MIT students prepare to head off to warm beaches and tropical getaways for spring break, another group of MIT students are choosing to spend their week off by participating in community service activities through Alternative Spring Break. The program was developed with similar programs at other universities.

This year ASB has a total of nine trips planned, including one of which took place over Independent Activities Period. The remaining eight will take place next week. New this year is a trip to New Orleans to work in an AIDS shelter. This trip was added because many students wanted to do service that related to health issues.

ASB at MIT was the brainchild of Anthony J. Ives ’96. After attending the Leadershape program in 1995, he had “the vision of bringing an alternative spring break program to MIT,” said Carina W. Fung ’99, one of the groups organizers. “MIT didn’t have any program like this, so Anthony decided to give MIT students the valuable opportunity to spend their spring break away from campus, yet performing quality community service to help others less fortunate.”

The first year of the program was in 1996. ASB sent 25 students to Washington, D.C. to participate in Teach for America’s Spring Breakaway program.

Over the next few years the ASB program grew significantly. In 1997 ASB sent students to participate in the TFA in New Jersey and in New York. Also, ASB sent students to work with the Habitat for Humanity in Salisbury, Maryland.

Since the creation of the program, ASB has been continually adding trips to cover a diverse range of interests.

“We found many students were interested in doing ASB but didn’t want to teach,” Fung said. “Others wanted to do ASB but wanted to go farther away. Some students approached me last year and asked if there was a health care type of trip.”

ASB has also developed a more thorough way of preparing the students for the trips.

“It is no longer simply a ‘jump in the van and go’ type trip,” Fung said. “Participants are encouraged to meet with each other before the trips take place, and are briefed on the kind of work [and] types of issues they’ll encounter. As for the teaching trips... we try to have sessions now where MIT participants practice teaching their original lessons to each other... This is all in the spirit of making the week a more worthwhile experience both for the MIT participants and the people we serve.”

The students who participate with ASB can also receive three or six units of credit in Political Science. The student must do outside reading and writing on relevant urban issues. This allows the student to become “more aware of the policy issues which are related to the service they are providing,” Fung said. “We want MIT students to be better informed about the world around them, as well as provide service to the community.”

ASB has a booth at the Activities Midway in the fall. Because of the popularity of the programs, it’s no longer on a first-come, first-serve basis as it originally was. Applications are due in December.

“Students have to prove to us they really want to go and promise us their commitment,” Fung said.