Service in Bloom: Connecting S-L & Alternative Spring Break

Written by S-L Street Team Member Shiko Githere

I had the pleasure of checking back in with Elizabeth Pier again after her Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip to Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona. Elizabeth is a second-year Behavioral Neuroscience major,
Service-Learning Teaching Assistant (S-LTA), and first-time ASB Trip Leader. If you missed part one of the interview with Elizabeth prior to her trip, make sure to check it out here!

As anticipated, the trip was a great success. Elizabeth recounted a week that was filled with great service, bonding between the students and nature, and stronger understanding of how volunteering and service can come in all forms.

Elizabeth’s service trip was particularly unique because although trail maintenance does not involve working directly with the community, park visitors greatly benefit from the work volunteers do. By the end of the week, Elizabeth and the team had made lots of progress on the trails.

“It was really cool because [the trail crew] told us the statistics of what we did for them. We cleared a whole mile of the trail, which saved them about $5,000 worth of resources. We helped a lot which was really nice to see,” explained Pier.

As far as Elizabeth’s leadership style, her goals prior to her ASB trip were to lean into the discomfort of leading those that may be older than her, while still creating a space where the volunteers were comfortable coming to her for help and seeing her as an equal.

As an S-LTA for Professor McElligott’s Inquiries in Biological Sciences course, most of Elizabeth’s students are younger than her. Despite this, she still feels her experience as an ASB leader to peers her own age is beneficial to her work in her S-L course and beyond. Regardless of age, her intention is always to make her students feel comfortable coming to her with any uncertainties with fellow volunteers or with their partnership. In that same light, she hoped that her trip-goers would come to her with any challenges or issues they were facing on the trails.

In addition, Elizabeth feels one of her best qualities as a leader is her ability to sense when someone seems withdrawn or disconnected. “I think part of what makes me a good leader is that I can pick up on people’s feelings pretty well. So usually, if someone is being quiet and separated, I can tell that something’s up, and I can go talk to them about it without being nosey and make sure that everything is ok,” said Elizabeth.

Leaders in ASB, service-learning, and elsewhere can greatly benefit from this intuitive quality which allows them to stay connected with their volunteers, even if some of them are uncomfortable talking about the problem. With the right approach, leaders can help to address those volunteers’ concerns while fostering a sense of trust and understanding.

In many ways, Elizabeth’s experience as both an ASB trip volunteer and trip leader has allowed her to gain perspective on the program. She noted that both sides have pros and cons, but going on the trip both years has allowed her to gain a much deeper understanding on the intricacies of trail maintenance and the trip as a whole. In that same light, having been both an S-L student and now an S-LTA has given Elizabeth a lot of insight on the S-L program and what it takes to facilitate service.

Another important aspect of both programs is the practice of reflection. In S-L, students and S-L student leaders alike are encouraged and required to reflect at various points and in varying ways. During her ASB trip, Elizabeth noted, “I really appreciated the reflection time that we had because when you do service in nature, there’s definitely a lot of similarities and differences when compared to when you’re working in a community where you directly work with the people. [I think] it is still very important to reflect on and talk about that.”

Despite being two separate programs, ASB and S-L are similar in many ways. Elizabeth’s unique position of being a volunteer and leader for both service programs has and will allow her to pull from all types of experiences and develop tools that will continue to make her a great asset in both ASB and S-L!

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