When Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis students clear off campus for spring break next week, not everyone will be headed for time in the sun, rest and relaxation. Beginning March 13, those participating in Alternative Spring Break will volunteer six hours per day on projects focused on environmentalism, animal conservation, systemic racism, rural education, HIV/AIDS, indigenous rights, mental health and interfaith social issues.
An alternative break experience can reveal unexpected lessons for many students, something first-year graduate student Matthew Greenwood found out firsthand during last October’s Fall Alternative Break.
Volunteering in Columbus, Ohio, through the program sponsored by Campus Center and Student Experiences within the Division of Student Affairs, Greenwood worked on an urban farming project. The project taught him about the value of reclaiming abandoned city lands for growing food crops. It also gave him the background to approach his nonprofit studies from a new perspective.
Greenwood is pursuing a graduate certificate in nonprofit management and plans to complete his Master of Public Affairs in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Hailing from Indianapolis’ west side in Speedway, he completed bachelor’s degrees in psychology and philosophy at IUPUI.
Greenwood, who plans to work in the nonprofit sector advocating for vulnerable populations, spoke with IU Communications after participating in the 2016 Fall Alternative Break program.
Q: Why did you decide to go on a Fall Alternative Break?
MG: I wanted to use the extra time that fall break afforded me to delve deeper into social issues and to volunteer that time for a good cause.
Q: What was the biggest lesson you brought back from this experience?
MG: To be honest, I’d not thought much about urban farming. I knew little about it and never thought it would have much of an impact. I learned a lot about the topic, including how transformative it could be in a troubled neighborhood. The experience was a real eye-opener.
Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned during Fall Alternative Break?
MG: Just how something as simple as an urban farm in empty lots could make such a difference to a neighborhood. Also, how much I personally enjoyed getting dirty, farming and picking tomatoes!
Q: How do you think your Fall Alternative Break experience will contribute to your studies and future profession?
MG: When it comes to sustainable neighborhoods, and any social issue, I need to remember to keep an open mind about solutions that are outside the box. Also that there is so much I don’t know, and to be receptive to ideas that I might have been skeptical about initially.
Q: Based on your status as a graduate student, what do you think you brought to the experience for other students on the trip?
MG: I was with a remarkable group of undergrads, all coming with their unique experiences and viewpoints. I felt like there was a lot of wisdom in the group, and they offered many profound insights from their perspectives. Despite being older, by far, than anyone else, I feel everyone contributed equally, and I learned more from them than they did from me. They were a great group, and I never felt out of place, despite the age difference between me and the rest of the Alternative Fall Breakers.
Q: What advice do you have for students going on next week’s Alternative Spring Break?
MG: Come with an open mind and a positive attitude. And, oh yeah – don’t expect to get much sleep!