Philanthropy, not partying for students’ spring break

A small group of students from Northern Kentucky University had life-changing experiences during this year’s spring break, and it didn’t involve beaches, beer or bikini contests.

A total of 25 students participated in the alternative spring break program that took them to Mazamitla, Guadalajara and Zacatecas in Mexico. The students were involved in community projects, either digging a large tank for fish farming in Mazamitla so the residents would have a source of income, or shadowing doctors in Guadalajara so they could better understand medical care outside of the United States, according to Leo Calderon, director of Latino Student Affairs.

Although the alternative spring break program began in 1999 with funding from NKU, this is the second year the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has partnered with the university in an effort to bring technology to Mexican residents. Last year, NKU donated 20 used computers to the alternative spring break program, said Ashley Long, a sophomore marketing major who participated in the program. “It was unbelievable. This was their first experience with computers. We have grown up with computers, but these kids did not even know about e-mail,” she said.

Laura Brennan, a senior pre-med and Spanish major, was one of four students who shadowed doctors in Guadalajara this year.

“We spent time in a huge hospital for those who didn’t have private health care. It was loud and chaotic; I actually saw a woman give birth in a gigantic room with dividers. I don’t know how the doctors did it,” Brennan said.

She was in awe of the way the residents handled difficult circumstances. “We worked with paralyzed infants to stimulate nerve connections. The moms of the infants were smiling and laughing, so hopeful even though they had so little. Everyone was so caring and family oriented,” Brennan said.

Her trip reinforced Brennan’s dream to become a doctor and work in South America. “My help is needed more in other countries than it is here in the United States,” Brennan said. “I am just so grateful for this experience. It has definitely changed the way I look at the world.”

Calderon would like to ensure students continue having positive experiences in other countries. From March 21 to 24, representatives from the University of Zacatecas, a catholic university from Guadalajara, known to locals as ITESO, and the University of North Texas visited NKU. The purpose of the visit was to establish goodwill and a student faculty exchange opportunity, to consider the possibility of establishing a bi-lingual scholarly journal and continue with alternative spring break initiatives, Calderon said.

Michael Klembara, director of International Programs, said NKU will be exchanging two students with UAZ and possibly one student with ITESO next year.

“Students are interested in spending larger time periods in different countries to engage in community outreach and civic project engagement,” Calderon said.