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Students Combine Volunteer Work, Fun on Spring Break Trips

Spring break service trips are tradition at Minnesota State Mankato.

Amanda Dyslin, Mankato Free Press, 3-9-2014

Mankato, Minn. -- Minnesota State University, Mankato students for years went on alternative spring break trips, spending their precious week off from classes doing good deeds and seeing a few sites while they were at it.

Once the student organization that coordinated the trips dissolved, alternative spring breaks eventually fell by the wayside. But in 2012, Student Activities resurrected the idea, and the spring break trips have become an annual tradition again. (Pictured at right are students during spring break 2013. Photo provided by Minnesota State Mankato's Student Activities Office.)

This year, about 20 students will be headed to El Paso, Texas, to help renovate a house with Habitat for Humanity, said Steph Stassen, graduate advisor, RSO & Leadership.

“They want to spend their spring break in a different way,” Stassen said. “They just want to help out and do good for other people.”

In 2012, the first year Student Activities organized the trip, they also partnered with Habitat’s Collegiate Challenge alternative spring break program. Eight students went to Denver to help build a house.

The students took two vans and hit the open road, driving the 15 hours to Colorado. Molly Wandersee was the organizer and one of the graduate students who went on the trip that year.

She said a big part of the idea of resurrecting the Minnesota State Mankato alternative spring breaks was to make sure the students had a fun time and got to see cool things. While in Denver they went to a Nuggets basketball game, for example.

“We wanted to make it a vacation, too,” Wandersee said. “The idea behind an alternative spring break is to, yes, volunteer most of your time, but also to have some fun.”

The same is true for the El Paso trip, said Stassen who is coordinating the trip and going along. The students are caravanning the full 21 hours across the country. They will be working with Habitat’s Collegiate Challenge program Monday through Saturday, joining more than 14,000 students from more than 700 schools nationwide who will be working at more than 200 sites. Collectively, the students have pledged more than $1 million for the affiliates they are working with.

Stassen said the students met several times in advance of the El Paso trip to talk about sites they want to see. Alternative spring break doesn’t have to mean actually giving up their whole spring break, Stassen said.

“I’m still kind of getting a spring break. I get to go somewhere warm. I get to spend the 10 days with students and get to know them more,” Stassen said.

Mercede Cunningham is one of the Minnesota State Mankato students going on the trip. Cunningham volunteers with Habitat and also at the ReStore in Mankato. Usually she spends her spring breaks in Arizona with her family, but she said she couldn’t pass up this opportunity. “I am mostly looking forward to meeting and working alongside the family that has been chosen for this Habitat home. It will be such a life-changing experience for the both of us,” she said. “It will surely be a long trip to Texas, but I am excited to be making a pit stop in Colorado to see the mountains.”

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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