To get students involved in local service projects while still adhering to pandemic safety protocols, USD Alternative Week of Off-Campus Learning (AWOL) is offering two summer trips that are a bit closer to home than usual.
The trips are themed around conservation and rural resilience. The former will see students traveling to Rapid City and Yankton from May 11-15, while the latter will have students travel to Winnebago, Neb. and Sioux City, Iowa from May 10-14.
Members of the rural resilience program will return to Vermillion every night rather than staying on-site, though those participating in the conservation trip will get to stay in Rapid City due to the distance.
Rachel Sestak, creative director for AWOL, said these programs are unlike traditional alternative breaks in which students travel out of state.
“(For) this we want to just kind of get a different scenery for students so that way they can… meet people of different diverse backgrounds… which can expand your learning because you get to learn about different perspectives,” Sestak said.
AWOL advisor Kim Albracht said the rural resilience program will explore how Native American communities have adapted to the changing world.
“The idea behind (the program) is to think about how… Native communities have built resilience to thrive in everything that’s been placed on them… how are they dealing with the situation at hand, how are they creating and building off of that resilience to keep their culture alive,” Albracht said.
Sydney Payne, the site leader for the rural resilience trip, is in charge of planning the program and contacting community partners to work with AWOL students. She said the group plans to work with the Whirling Thunder Wellness Program, The Boys and Girls Club of Winnebago and the town’s vaccine clinic.
“We’re going to get a tour of the hospital and learn how the hospital system is different on a reservation, and then I think we’re going to be helping out wherever they need it,” Payne said. “I haven’t helped at a COVID clinic before, so I think it’d be kind of cool just to see how everything is run there.”
Trip members will also be working with the Urban Native Center in Sioux City to distribute food, face masks and hand sanitizer.
The conservation trip, Albracht said, will focus on the ways in which to keep public lands usable, as well as recreational aspects of public land and curbing invasive species.
“They will be traveling as well, just not quite as far, and learning a little bit more about the public lands that are here in South Dakota and how we can best support them,” Albracht said.
The trips will be different from those in the past, but Sestak said they will also be really nice because they will allow students to learn about their own community and apply their knowledge directly to service in Vermillion.
“For example, we might meet a community partner that a student can continue to work with in the future, and they’ll be able to grow that relationship a lot easier than if we were out of state,” Sestak said. “I would encourage students to get involved in an alternative break if they’re leaning towards the option because it’s been one of the best experiences in my college career.”