By STEVEN NALLEY
Midterms may be over, but not all Mississippi State University students have sunny beaches, snowy slopes, bright lights or big cities on their minds this spring break. Some will offer their time off to those in need, and they won’t even need to leave the state.
The MSU Office of Student Leadership and Community Engagement is holding a six-day alternative spring break program starting Sunday, offering students service opportunities in towns across the Mississippi Delta while teaching them about the region’s rich history.
Meggan Franks, program coordinator for the office, said the alternative spring break, or ASB, is part of a semester-long history class taught by rotating professors. She said the plan for this trip has been in the works since the fall, and it is only the second of its kind.
“I think it’s a great program,” Franks said. “It’s an amazing way for students to get connected with their state (and) with their community. We’re creating civic-minded students that give back to their community. There’s a great benefit to us staying within the state of Mississippi. There’s a lot of service that needs to be done here.”
Cade Smith, assistant dean and director of the office, said the previous ASB took students to Niceville, Fla, where students constructed trails at a wildlife refuge and worked with the local Head Start program, serving meals, playing with students and helping them with their lessons. He said one of their standout activities was constructing an artificial oyster reef.
“There were about 200 students from about 20 different colleges and universities at that location,” Smith said. “We’re part of something much bigger down there.”
The ties to health and environmental sciences will remain intact this year, Smith said, because students will be working with fresh food initiatives, constructing hothouses and painting with the Sunflower Freedom Project in Sunflower. Between the service, he said, there will also be time for some excitement.
“I would say the most impressive thing we’re going to do is actually canoe out on the bay channel of the Mississippi River, canoe down to an island where we’re going to eat lunch, and we’ll clean up the trash and debris on that island, and then return ... about 6-8 miles downstream of where we put in,” Smith said. “We’ll do a range of educational, cultural and service activities.”
He said students will also tour several historic landmarks and enjoy several cultural experiences to coordinate with the history class, which is based on James C. Cobb’s book, “The Most Southern Place on Earth.” Only half of approximately 23 students on the trip are taking the class, he said, but they will all have the same experience. The itinerary calls for students to visit more than a dozen Mississippi Delta towns in total.
“We’re leaving campus at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, and we’re going to Greenwood, and we’ll start with a worship experience in ... a predominantly white church, then we’ll have a worship experience in a predominantly black church,” Smith said. “Then we’ll hop right into service activities that afternoon. Monday, we’ll be doing a school bus tour with Dr. Luther Brown from Delta State (University), who is a cultural educator, and we’ll do a civil rights-(and) blues-themed tour. Wednesday, we’re going to be touring some corporate farms as well as the Viking Range corporation.”
Smith said MSU is also collaborating with the University of Alabama and the University of Southern Mississippi for an alternative break in Canada. Franks said she hopes for the ASB in the Delta to expand in the next few years to a program incorporating students from multiple universities.
“Every week, we would have a different university participating in the Delta,” Franks said. “That is the ultimate goal.”