The CSU alternative break program places teams of students in communities to engage in community service and experiential learning. This intensive immersion experience is designed to create active citizens, individuals who make the community a priority when making life choices.
The communities that host break teams may be near or far—CSU offers alternative break programs across the United States and world—but one thing that they will have in common is an environment far different from that of a college campus.
Students leave behind the world of books and laboratories and enter communities that are grappling with issues as varied as hunger, inadequate housing, and environmental degradation. Alternative break is not simply volunteerism—it is an intentionally designed experience that is mutually beneficial to both communities and students. While the communities benefit from tangible work completed, the students gain a broader understanding of the world around them. Students often return gaining a deeper sense of the complexity of social issues and a stronger commitment to resolving root causes of problems. Many students have hailed the experience as fundamentally life-changing and the best week they’ve ever had.
What is the structure of alternative break? What is my role vs. the role of the student site leader?
Historically, alternative break at CSU has relied on a “student site leader” model for the trips. In other words, CSU has been committed to the idea of student-led experiences. Until very recently, ALL alternative break experiences were entirely student led. Students completed a year-long site leader training to prepare themselves for the trips, and then took their peers on the experience of a lifetime.
However, with the new addition of international experiences and domestic trips with challenging cross-cultural components or particularly intense issue areas, the need for faculty/staff involvement in alternative break has become more important. As a result, we have had many faculty/staff serve as part of the leadership team for alternative break trips. The benefits of faculty/staff involvement are many; mainly faculty/staff bring a different lens and a different level of expertise and problem solving to the alternative break experience.
The distinction in role between student leaders and faculty/staff leaders can be difficult to discern at first, in particular because our expectation in SLICE is that the students and faculty work together to create a quality experience for the student participants and community partners. Student site leaders are expected to have an authentic leadership role in the group, in planning, implementation, and reflecting on the trip. The site leader school should prepare students to plan virtually every aspect of the trip: from budgeting, to meeting planning, to conflict resolution. That said, students on occasion need extra mentoring, support, or help if they run into a road block while putting their trip together. We love the assistance of faculty/staff in this capacity. In addition, we rely heavily on faculty/staff to take the lead in emergency situations and be in contact with personnel from the SLICE office or international programs if an issue arises. In the past faculty/staff have make the biggest contributions in the case of emergencies/general safety concerns, offering expertise/content for group preparation meetings and processing, and in the development of new trips. Finally, faculty/staff members are expected to be engaged, involved, and provide good role modeling and support for the student participants.
Responsibilities for faculty/staff who accompany students on alternative breaks vary significantly by trip and by individual. The main role of faculty/staff is to work IN COLLABORATION with the student site leaders to plan and execute a successful alternative break trip. Additionally, faculty/staff should take on the primary role when concerning issues of health, safety, and security of people on the trip (as an employee, legal and safety issues fall on faculty/staff vs. student leaders).
There are a number of tasks that must be completed by alternative break leadership prior, during, and after an alternative break trip. Some of these tasks include:
- Forming a relationship with the community partner, identifying a project, developing the trip itinerary, providing leadership for the service project (construction, etc)
- Recruiting and interviewing participants (student leaders typically do most of this, but faculty often support them by making class announcements, etc.)
- Planning and executing pre-trip/post-trip meetings for the alternative break group (faculty/staff expertise can be extremely helpful here with regard to the specific issue areas and populations the students will work with)
- Budgeting, finances, and keeping track of receipts during the trip
- Support student participants in their individual and group fundraising efforts
- Supporting and assisting student leaders in their completion of paperwork required for the trip: risk management plans, emergency contact information, etc.
- Reflecting on the alternative break experience and bringing the issue to life in Fort Collins (faculty/staff have helped students do presentations, awareness events, etc to “continue the learning” past the alternative break experience)
- Providing expertise and wisdom on the trip related to the issue area or population the students are working with
- Assisting students as they navigate and travel in a new environment (interpreting public transportation, driving vans, etc)
- Being a responsible presence on the trip who can problem solve in case of an emergency or issue; being in contact with CSU personnel in case an issue arises.
- Supporting students as they experience significant realizations and shifts in their previously held notions of service and social justice.
- In partnership with student site leaders, maintain and access the group’s overall health while supporting individual participants’ well-being.
- Lead/assist in the development of the Logistical Review document required by international programs (international trips only)
Once faculty/staff decide they want to accompany an alternative break trip, they are encouraged to meet with the entire leadership team for their alternative break team (both student leaders and other staff/faculty leaders) and discuss and divide up roles. From the perspective of the SLICE office, it is not so important HOW roles are divided, rather it is critical that everyone understands their role and feels comfortable with it (the one exception here is safety/security issues which should be handled by faculty/staff members vs. student leaders). Open and clear communication is a critical piece to success. If you are a faculty/staff member and you do not feel clear or comfortable on what your role is, PLEASE speak to Jen Johnson in the SLICE office immediately.
For international trips, faculty/staff accompanying students often have a personal connection (through their research or study) to a particular region of the world, or have a particular skill set of interest to the group (ie. construction if the students are building a house, language skills, etc). International trips are more work and more time intensive for both student and faculty leaders. Typically faculty/staff have a MORE INVOLVED role on international trips and are expected to invest more time into planning and execution of the trip. Ultimately, faculty/staff are responsible for ensuring the safety and good decision making of the group while overseas. Regular meeting with student site leaders, the group, and staff within the international programs office is expected.
The student site leaders are informed about the involvement of faculty/staff members on trips prior to selecting which trips they want to go on. We explain that it is required for all international trips to have faculty/staff traveling with the group, mostly for safety and liability reasons. We also explain that we elect to have faculty/staff travel with some of the domestic trips if the issue area, cross-cultural interaction, or specific location is particularly challenging. On occasion, student site leaders may have questions about why their trip was chosen to have a faculty/staff member accompany the group. Jen Johnson in the SLICE office will do her best to answer these questions in advance of your involvement, but if they come up, the best way to handle the situation is to start teasing out your role and discussing with the student the various things that you can contribute to the group experience. Typically, once the site leaders find out that you are “cool,” it is no problem and they very much enjoy having you along.
The Office for Student Leadership, Involvement, and Community Engagement (SLICE) provides the overarching structure for the alternative break program. We provide:
- Training for all of the student site leaders on topics such as: risk management, recruitment and selection, working with community partners, teambuilding, fundraising, reflection and processing, budget, conflict resolution, and facilitation. Faculty leaders are welcome to attend any or all of the trainings.
- Centralized accounting for each alternative break trip. All deposits and financial transactions go through our office. Your department is not responsible for money
- Centralized recruitment and selection process for student participants (we have templates for interview questions, applications, etc).
- Logistics planning such as room reservations, meeting planning, etc.
- Timelines and structure to ensure that leaders can note their progress and make sure that they are on track for a successful trip
- A computer, mailbox, and long distance phone access so leaders can communicate to community partners
- Filing and tracking of all necessary paperwork including participant forms, itineraries, emergency contact information, risk management plans, etc.
- Supplies for trips including first aid kids, money belts, and binders
- Cheerleading and support for student/staff/faculty leaders as well as alternative break participants!
There is no set number of meetings that are “required” to attend. As a faculty/staff leader, you are welcome to attend ANY of the site leader meetings that you might find helpful.
We do recommend being involved in some capacity with the group meetings prior to the trip. Involvement at these meetings helps you to form relationships with the students participating on the trip, and establishes your role as a leader. We recommend working together with your student site leaders to identify a plan for your attendance and leadership at these meetings. Some faculty/staff have been very involved in the pre and post-trip meetings and have made huge contributions to the preparation of their group through their insights and suggestions for learning materials (articles, movies, guest speakers, etc).
Contact Jen Johnson at Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about alternative breaks. You can also visit the alternative breaks website for up to date information on future trips, deadlines, and more!
If you are accompanying an international trip (or interested in getting involved), it is critical that you work in collaboration with the International Education Office at Colorado State University. We strongly recommend that you visit with a representative from the International Programs Office for copies of all of the forms, timelines, and deadlines required for all international field experiences at CSU.
“Get to know the site ahead of time if it’s not a location with which you are already familiar. When it comes time for trouble-shooting, you’ll appreciate already knowing where to go, who to ask, etc.”
“Go through the health and medical forms of each participant ahead of time and discuss any practicalities or concerns with a student before you go.”
“Participants will inevitably look to faculty for cues on how to interact and behave at their alternative break site. You will be a role model!”
“Be a part of at least a few trip participant meetings so you can assess the group dynamic ahead of time in terms of strong leaders, outspoken individuals, introverted participants, etc.”