- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006


First-year medical student Vanessa Escobar spent a recent week lancing a cyst on the wrist of a Haitian tomato packer, taking vitals on an infant born to a young Mexican farmworker and giving oxygen to a 6 year old with severe asthma.

She was not on a medical rotation. She was on spring break.

“I did the spring-break trips to Daytona Beach and South Beach,” said Miss Escobar, 26. “It was fun, but this is so much better. You learn so much.”

The Florida State University-sponsored trip to Immokalee was a far cry from the all-night parties and bikini contests that have become a rite of passage for many college and graduate students. Yet educators say a small but growing number of students are choosing spring-break service over Seagram’s and sunburns.

Elizabeth Hollander, head of Rhode Island-based Campus Compact, which encourages academic institutions to participate in civic life, said the boom in spring-break service trips is part of a larger trend toward more community service at colleges and universities nationwide.

The nonprofit group Break Away, which helps coordinate alternative spring breaks, estimated that about 33,000 students were participating in such trips this year, up 15 percent from 2005.

Given the vast need on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, this year is a particularly strong one for spring-break volunteer projects.

Tulane University in New Orleans plans to host more than 600 students and is scrambling to help house about 10,000 students who are expected to come to New Orleans for post-Katrina cleanup, he said.

Sometimes it seems students are more interested in going abroad than helping out at home, in part because it’s exotic and because they hear more about the extreme conditions in Third World countries, said Dr. Arthur Fournier, associate dean for community health of the University of Miami School of Medicine.

“They know about the problems in Rwanda and Haiti, but they don’t necessarily know about the problems in their own back yard,” Dr. Fournier said.

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