Spring Break: Engaging Learning Beyond the Classroom

The picture of Spring Break perpetuated by pop culture is one of partying on the beach. Yet, what we are increasingly witnessing at Middle Georgia State University each year is something quite different. While many of us take a deserved moment to recharge and relax—on or off the beach—during the break from classes, many of our students and faculty also take the opportunity to engage beyond the classroom.

This year, our students and faculty interacted with communities and colleagues both at home and abroad. Residence Life once again offered Alternative Spring Break, this year taking a group of students to Texas, where they volunteered with the largest food bank in the nation, the Houston Food Bank.

Dr. Laura Thomason, our Director of International Programs, traveled to Sienna to arrange for study abroad opportunities for MGA students in Italy next year. Our Peyton Anderson Endowed Chair & Professor of Information Technology, Dr. John Girard, made his way to the United Arab Emirates to present and meet with colleagues at Al Ain University of Science & Technology.

And, right here in Middle Georgia, Dr. Matt Jennings played William Bartram—who explored the American Southeast in the late 1700s to record the region’s plants, animals, and Native peoples—in the Lantern Light Tours at Ocmulgee National Monument, while our students and staff participated in two of the marquis events that draw tourists to our region: the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Dublin and the Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon.

Meanwhile, the President’s Torch Society took its first service learning trip to our nation’s capital. On a day when many high school students were in Washington DC raising the issue of school violence, our students met with members of our Congressional delegation to learn about leadership, the Higher Education Reauthorization, and to tour the Capitol.

Their visit to the Hill capped off a trip where they met with fellow students from universities in Washington, DC, paid respects at Arlington National Cemetery, learned about the national vision of non-profits with local affiliates in Georgia such as Communities in Schools, and—like their peers traveling to Texas—volunteered to address hunger, working with Martha’s Table and CIS to put on a Joyful Food Market, bringing fresh fruits and veggies to an elementary school located in one of the DC urban area’s food deserts.

And just last Friday, I was invited to join our students as they distributed food packages and school supplies to students at Skyview Elementary, as part of the Backpack Ministry Club led by our wonderful Nursing students and faculty advisors.

The experiences in which members of our university community engaged last week were as varied as our people, yet they shared a common thread—they are all emblematic of our mission of transforming lives.

Or, as one Torch Society member put it in his Experiential Learning reflection: “When most people think of leaders, they think of those highly compensated politicians in Washington or a big wig CEO at a large corporation. However, leaders exist in all parts of society; I saw that on our trip. The people responsible for the market at Moten Elementary are all leaders and are equally, if not more important than those politicians in Washington. I witnessed leadership firsthand when I witnessed students protesting gun violence. And perhaps, most of all, I witnessed some of the best leadership from my fellow colleagues. It is important to remember that you do not need a title to be a leader.”

The purpose of learning is as much demonstrated in our private lives and leisure activities as it is in classrooms and formal qualifications.  This spring break we saw the purpose and outcome of that learning in many ways and places through our students’ and faculty’s activities.