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Alternative Break in the Grand Canyon

In lieu of road-tripping or heading to a spring break “hot spot,” MSU Denver students Andrea Herrera-Madrigal and Jasmine Villalobos-Valles spent their spring break learning about environmental conservation while enjoying Grand Canyon vistas.

Alternate Spring BreakBy Kristen Lotze

Taking a trip to the Grand Canyon might sound like a fairly conventional way to spend one’s spring break, but for communication studies major Andrea Herrera-Madrigal and business management major Jasmine Villalobos-Valles, the experience was anything but typical.

Herrera-Madrigal and Villalobos-Valles chose to spend their time participating in what is known as an Alternative Break Citizenship (ABC), where they, along with several other college students from across the region, traveled to the Grand Canyon to learn about nature conservation.

So, what exactly is an Alternative Break? According to Herrera-Madrigal, “it’s an educational and fun experience where groups take stands to fix issues prevalent in our world today.” Villalobos-Valles further explains, “the Alternative Break was broken down into 11 workshops assigned throughout the week designed to improve and learn about the challenges [our] program may face. To satisfy the service requirement, we picked up trash and cleaned up fire pits from camp areas.”

Villalobos-Valles continues, “Alternative Break is not about satisfying volunteer hours or a destination trip; it’s about making an impact and working within our communities. I learned about the impact waste has on our environment and how the consumption of waste is affecting both animals and landfills. One of the days, I realized to myself I have a love/hate relationship with the environment. I say this because I enjoyed every moment of the Grand Canyon: the infinite scenery, the fresh air. I wish I had wings to fly all around – it was beautiful. I am fortunate to live these special moments at the Grand Canyon, yet I was so unaware of the effect my habits were having. Until this experience, I was not mindful about the waste I produced. I learned how to minimize the human impact on the environment, specifically the consequence of waste on the outdoors. Spending a week with other students fromdifferent universities motived me to change my ways as well as look for ways to improve our program.” 

Of her overall ASB experience, Herrera-Madrigal says, “I learned how other schools try to magnify Alternative Breaks for greater impacts – I realized the impressions they make not only affect the students who are participating, but also seep into the college campuses at home and the communities that surround them. Because of this experience, I was able to learn about climate change and what we can do to minimize our impact. For example, we all must pick up after ourselves, as even the smallest bits of trash can be fatal for various animals. We also need to be careful of how we dispose of our garbage in order to prevent harmful toxins from being released into the environment.” Herrera-Madrigal concludes, “I feel that the education I received from ASB is valuable and being able to observe these issues first-hand was eye-opening. I look forward to bringing new ideas for Alternative Breaks to MSU Denver.”

Alternative Break is currently part of the Scholar Success Program (served in part by the Denver Scholarship Foundation); the office of Student Activities will also offer a one-day service event this spring semester. Click for other volunteer opportunities available through MSU Denver.