Spring break

Elizabeth Rund

While some students party at beaches, others volunteer and serve their country

Student volunteers from Kent State carry a sheet of drywall to a Habitat for Humanity home being built in Ocean Springs, Miss., during the recent winter break. Photos by Bob Christy Kent State University Communications and Marketing

Credit: DKS Editors

Kent State students Pam Daly and Mai Tran finish drywall in a home in Gulfport, Miss., during winter break. Over 100 Kent State volunteers will head to the Gulf Coast for spring break to help rebuild homes devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Credit: DKS Editors

Although the weather might suggest otherwise, spring will soon march into Ohio – with the first day of the season falling during spring break.

Throughout many college campuses, spring break marks the halfway point of the semester. It also signals one of the few times of the year when students can travel around the world and live it up for a week without worries.

While many students rush to finalize airplane tickets and hotel rooms, a local travel agency hasn’t been feeling the stress.

“We sell the more inclusive packages to the Caribbean and Mexico,” said Prentiss Brown, a travel agent for McNeil Travel Service. “In general, students are looking more for four or five to a room in Florida.”

While tropical beach locations are popular for a week of excitement and relaxation, others take the opportunity to visit friends and family.

“I am going to be here for St. Patty’s day,” said senior conservation major Brittany Kramer. “Then I am going to be home with my family.”

Freshman biology major Nicky Nguyen said that she might be taking a trip to Stone Mountain, Ga., during the break.

“That’s where my boyfriend lives,” she said.

Though spring break is right around the corner, it can feel like months away sitting inside stuffy classrooms. Remembering past trips helps to pass the time.

“I was deployed to Guatemala (last year),” said Jacob Smith, a 2nd Lt. and senior history major. “I was working for spring break.”

Smith said that during the week he was there, they were involved in five separate car accidents. The first day they hit a house, and the second day they were sideswiped by a truck.

The third accident involved a fan belt breaking on his Humvee, causing the engine to overheat.

“Black smoke poured in, and coolant went everywhere,” Smith said.

He said they used the water from their canteens as a makeshift coolant and went 90 mph trying to get back to base.

Smith also remembers a vacation to the Bahamas where he and a group of people rented a catamaran (a small boat) for a “booze cruise.”

“I had a number of rum drinks and passed out on the beach,” Smith said. “We called it ‘Throw Up Island.'”

While some students jet off to exotic locations, 96 students are traveling down south to lend a helping hand.

Since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August of 2005, Gary Padak, dean of undergraduate studies, has taken more than 500 students, faculty and Kent community members to Mississippi and Louisiana to aid in the cleanup and reconstruction efforts.

Padak explained that the university got involved after George Garrison, a Pan-African Studies professor, drove a truck to Louisiana after the hurricane. The truck was filled with relief supplies collected by Kent State students.

It progressed to a planning committee for the March 2006 trip, with a goal to help the victims rebuild the Gulf Coast in any way necessary.

“The first year, the students did a lot of general cleanup,” Padak said. “The level of work has progressed to primarily drywalling, painting, general carpentry, roofing, etc. Some of our students have worked with Habitat for Humanity in Mississippi and constructed houses from the ground up.”

In past years students have traveled to Biloxi, but this year about half of the volunteers will go to New Orleans, while the other half goes to Ocean Springs, Miss.

Padak said he hopes the students come away with a feeling of satisfaction that they had helped someone else, while forming new friendships and having fun.

“It is a bonding experience that has the most lasting impact,” he said.

Contact features reporter Elizabeth Rund at [email protected].