Spring break students return with tales of service, career connections


In Washington, D.C., during spring break, Belleville senior Amanda Humpich said she got a push in the right direction by networking with recent Michigan graduates to spark her job search.

Sophomore Alexandra Ngo of Sterling Heights said she also gained from meeting Michigan graduates in D.C., through the Michigan Career Center Immersions initiative both joined.

“Networking had helped a majority of the alumni that we met and that’s a new tool that I hope to implement in my future,” Ngo said.

It happens every spring: Hundreds of U-M students trade the traditional spring break sun-fun experience for service or career-related activities organized by schools and units. Students learn more about their field and the working world outside the classroom.

“Palms sweaty, clipboards, surveys and consent forms in-hand, I give Peggy (Korpela), my fellow survey recruiter, a quick nod and quickly approach my first college student sitting at a picnic table to take the survey,” Elana Elkin wrote on the School of Public Health Frontlines Blog.

After writing “SPH” and a block M in the sand, School of Public Health spring break students take a photo at South Padre Island upon their arrival for a community health assessment project in Hidalgo County, Texas. From left are: Liz Timoszyk, Elana Elkin, Peggy Korpela, Christopher Bush, Megan Edmonds, Chelsea Abshire, Grace Christensen and Julia Porth. (Photo courtesy of the School of Public Health)

The first-year doctoral student in toxicology joined SPH students who tackled a community health assessment in Hidalgo County, Texas.

“The people of South Texas and the realities of their health situations are no longer vague statistics on the CDC website. They are literally staring me in the face, reflected in this young man’s story, unveiled in his survey, question by question,” Elkin continued. Her career goal is to join the U.S. Public Health Service.

Dana Thomas, SPH program manager, said 16 students planned to participate in alternative spring break activities in South Texas and Grenada. The students get experience collaborating with government and community organizations to improve population health.

Also organizing trips around the country was U-M Alternative Spring Break, a roughly 300-member student organization supported by the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning. Juliet Wu, a West Bloomfield sophomore, worked as an ASB co-site leader on a trip to Ndakinna Education Center near Saratoga Springs, New York.

Juliet Wu (left) and Nikole Koszarycz seved as co-site leaders during an alternative spring break visit to the Native American-focused Ndakinna Education Center near Saratoga Springs, New York. (Photo by Michelle Phalen)

The nonprofit center offers immersive learning about regional Native American culture and awareness of the natural world.

“A lot of people view the Native American community as somehow helpless, when they really are doing a lot to empower their communities and preserve their culture,” Wu said, upon returning. The 10 ASB students on the trip immersed themselves in nature, heard from Native American authors and learned linguistics, among other activities.

Katie Dunn, career counselor with the School of Information, said 61 SI students from the Master of Science in Information, Master of Health Informatics and Bachelor of Science in Information degree programs participated in the school’s Alternative Spring Break program.

Thirty-one students volunteered in Washington, D.C., 19 in Chicago and 11 in Detroit. They worked on capacity-building information projects at nonprofit organizations, government agencies and educational institutions.

“In Detroit, a student has developed an information kiosk network among the dispersed service locations to make it easier to provide up-to-date information to clients, staff and Head Start parents for Matrix Human Services,” Dunn said.

Throughout spring break week, students take part in reflective outings to discuss their experience, visit new cities that they may one day live and work in, and bond with their peers, Dunn said.

Marilee Benore, professor of biology and biochemistry at UM-Dearborn, accompanied 16 undergraduates to join Global Brigades to Honduras. “We were part of a medical brigade and also worked three days building public health and sanitation facilities, laying cement floors, building stoves,” she said.

UM-Dearborn student Natasha Hampton relaxes with children in Honduras after giving them flouride treatments and helping them learn to brush their teeth. The Lincoln Park senior joined other UM-Dearborn students as part of a medical brigade building public health facilities. (Photo by Marilee Benore)

Patrick Morgan, senior adviser for international health, safety and security in the Office of the Provost, said U-M students plan spring break activities all around the world, from partnering with UNICEF in Vietnam to working on a long-term solar lamp project in Guatemala.

 “It is clear that students are engaging in more service learning and co-curricular experiences abroad,” Morgan said, adding students prepare to respect their host culture.

The Career Center’s year-round Immersions program organizes student trips around the country to meet with industry leaders and alumni.

Immersions organized spring break visits to Denver to visit DISH Network and Craftsy, a craft-focused website; to Chicago to meet with Jellyvision, Yahoo, Teach for America and City Year; and to Washington, D.C. Students visited the FBI, the Pro Bono Institute and the Partnership for Public Service. Alumni offer insight on the host city and job outlook.

“The experience is open to all students and the financial piece for travel is not an issue,” said Kerin Borland, Career Center director. Scholarships are available to take care of travel and lodgings.

“We’ve gone to L.A. We’ve gone to New York for finance and fashion. We have our sights set on continuing to expand the program,” Borland said.


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