South in Service
February 05, 2010
Students from across Southern Utah University’s campus united over the semester break in true holiday spirit, traveling to Mexico where they volunteered by cleaning teeth, hammering roofs and playing duck-duck-goose with orphaned children.
And while the 2,000-mile round trip journey lasted just one week, the experience remains in our students’ minds even now that the new semester is well under way; more importantly, the results of their service have indefinitely altered the lives of many within one of Mexico’s neediest communities.
A semi-annual tradition at SUU, the Service and Learning Center is now accepting applications for students who wish to volunteer their time over the upcoming spring break in March. With many of the spring spots already filled, the Center is specifically looking for students who are fluent in the Spanish language.
Looking back on last winter’s service expedition, in addition to student volunteers who went to Mexico through the Service and Learning Center, the Rural Health Scholars program also sent pre-med and pre-dental students and the College of Computing, Integrated Engineering and Technology (CIET) sent a handful of construction management majors. In all more than fifty students volunteered their time between the fall and spring semesters.
On this most recent trip, construction management students replaced two dirt floors of local homes as well as a roof that had toxic fumes. As project managers of these endeavors, they were assisted in the hard labor by many of the volunteers working through the Service and Learning Center.
The Service and Learning students also visited a local orphanage, delivering clothing, shoes and toys they had previously gathered and coordinating group games and activities for the many children who called the orphanage home. Of these children, Pam Branin, director of the Service and Learning Center, commented, “There are just so many young children and not enough caretakers – the children are starved for attention and really seem to enjoy our visits year after year.”
All the students’ volunteer work was focused on Guaymas, an area of northwestern Mexico where SUU students have traveled year after year to provide humanitarian aid, complete building projects and volunteer in local orphanages, soup kitchens and hospitals.
Of SUU’s ongoing relationship with community organizations and leaders within Guaymas, Rita Osborn, associate director of the Utah Center for Rural Health and advisor within the Rural Health Scholars program, explained, “The community welcomes us with open arms.” She continues, explaining that far beyond repaired jungle gyms and new toys, the bi-annual Guyamas experience most benefits the students who put in the work.
Says Osborn, “Students experience tremendous personal growth as they travel to a country like Mexico and provide much needed help.”
Osborn’s student volunteers, primarily pre-medical students at SUU, volunteered in local hospitals, orphanages and long term care facilities, providing assistance to medical staff members so their professional efforts could be wider spread.
Boyd Fife, assistant professor of construction management and volunteer coordinator for the College of CIET’s efforts, thinks the lasting impact these service trips have on SUU’s students stems from the relationships they are able to develop with the people they help. "Students work side by side and hand in hand with the families they are helping; as they get to know one another, our students almost seem to become a part of the neighborhoods and communities they are serving."
Indeed, Mark Taylor, who is a construction management student at SUU, explained, "Not only is this a chance to get hands on experience as a construction foreman but it has opened my eyes to the opportunities that are out there to make a difference in another person’s life.” Taylor continued, “You see how grateful the people you help are and you feel good.”
Branin, who has been coordinating the Service & Learning Center service trips since the program was started, agreed, explaining that after returning from one of these service trips, student often express that the experience was “one of the best things they have done as an SUU student.”
Projects like this are not only important as philanthropic missions, but they also give students a chance to see how their education can make a difference in the world. Being able to use the things that they are learning in the classroom to change other people's lives in a positive way is an important aspect of a well- rounded education.
All students are welcome to participate in trips such as these. Those interested in signing up for the spring break 2010 trip or the winter break 2010-11 trip should contact the Service and Learning office at 586-8864.