New Service Trips Aim to Educate, Restore

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This March, Whitman students will be able to go on new spring break service trips to Portland and Northern California. The selection of new trips reflects an upward trend in students looking for co-curricular experiences to complement their formal education. The two new spring trips will give students the opportunity to apply and enlarge their understanding of education and environmental conservation work in diverse communities.

This year the two trip coordinators, Lauren Kutler and Kenna Little, have established contact with the Emerson School in Portland, a small charter school that attracts a diverse student body, and Friends of the Dunes, a conservation organization based in coastal Northern California. Basing their choices on Whitman students’ expressed interest in the topics of education and conservation work, Little and Kutler hope to challenge participants, and encourage them to bring these community conversations back to campus and Walla Walla in general.

In Portland, Whitman students will be divided up to assist teachers at Emerson Elementary School. Kutler picked Emerson—an urban charter school—because she hopes that it will prompt Whitman students to challenge and evolve their understanding of education.

In Arcata, Calif., Whitman students will roll up their sleeves and learn by working with the organization Friends of the Dunes. Little called it “learning by doing.” They will work on the dunes doing habitat restoration, a complement to the urban environmental service trip of previous years.

Kutler and Little hope that the new organizations and locations will appeal to specific demographics and cover community issues not addressed in previous years’ service trips.

“Education is really important, so that you’re not just blindly going in and accidentally doing harm, but trying to understand . . . the limits of what you can do for this issue, and how can you raise awareness about it and share that awareness with other people,” said Kutler.

Spring service trips, along with the Summer Community OutReach Excursion (S.C.O.R.E.) program, place Whitman students directly in the middle of the conversation over community issues. Kutler sees the education trip to Portland, in particular, as potentially creating community for students interested in education since the department was cut.

Although sponsored by the Student Engagement Center, Noah Leavitt, Assistant Dean for Student Engagement, emphasized the crucial role students have played in these programs’ development.

“The way that most of the existing community service programs have wound up on campus, they’ve been the outgrowth of a particular excitement or a particular enthusiasm or area of passion of one student … or a small group of students and they’ve gotten something going and the college has picked it up,” Leavitt said.

Last year 58 students applied to the Spring Service Trips. This year that number increased to 82.

“We try to be really intentional about providing a diverse group of students [the opportunity] to go,” said Abby Juhasz, the Community Service Coordinator at the Student Engagement Center.

In choosing candidates to go on the trips, the program coordinators aimed to achieve class year diversity, gender balance and an array of community service backgrounds. Working with Juhasz, Little and Kutler selected an unprecedented 44 students to go on trips this upcoming Spring Break.

“There’s a real obligation on our [the Student Engagement Center’s] part to keep in touch with what students want as they’re coming to Whitman in terms of experiences in civic engagement or off-campus working,” said Leavitt.

Through collaboration with the SEC staff, Little and Kutler have channeled their enthusiasm and continued the blossoming tradition of service-learning at Whitman.

“Service is my thing,” said Little. In this regard, it would seem that Little is not alone at Whitman.




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