Spring Break: a learning and service adventure for Fairfield University students

Spring Break: a learning and service adventure for Fairfield University students

Next week for Spring Break, 17 Fairfield University students will head to Nicaragua to conduct research and do service projects, while another 42 students will fan out across the United States to help rebuild schools and churches in New Orleans at Camp Restore; improve homes of Kentucky Appalachia residents in the Christian Appalachian project; build an affordable Habitat for Humanity home in rural Pennsylvania; and take part in a New York City Urban Plunge program through the Youth Services Opportunities Project (YSOP), founded by Quakers in 1983. A fifth U.S. destination is the national parks area of Utah where, in the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, students will work with animals that have been neglected and mistreated.

Dr. Winston Tellis, the Camille and Stephen Schramm Professor of Information Systems and Operation Management, will lead eight students from his course in International Information Systems in the Dolan School of Business to Nicaragua. The course explores the globalization phenomenon as it impacts various countries, particularly China and India, and in Nicaragua, he says, they will see first-hand a country "impacted by globalization" and where there are "quite a number of 'maciladoras' or textile sweat shops."

While there, the students will work on two specific service projects. "One is to assist the country's largest Microfinance Organization (FDL) in their search for new computer software to manage their growing business, in a secure and reliable manner. The second group will work to develop a sustainable business of crafts that FDL's customers produce. They will research the optimal methods of packing and shipping so that the artisans will expand their market."

Another class, this one in the College of Arts and Sciences, is led by Dr. Steven Bachelor, assistant professor of history, who teaches a course in Social Justice in the Developing World. In this capstone course, each of the nine students has been challenged to formulate a primary research project and conduct field research in Nicaragua. For one student it will mean investigating the level of herbicides in the water near a large sugar mill. Since the plant began operation, there has been a dramatic increase in the incidences of chronic renal failure and associated kidney diseases among the local residents, particularly men. The student will be testing water samples and interviewing community members, all related to a product that ends up in food supplies that students enjoy back home, unaware of their origins.

Another student will be investigating the rise in homelessness and poverty in Nicaragua since 1990 and links to a change in political structure that has reduced subsidies for education and other programs affecting children. Seemingly as a result, there has been an increase in the number of street children and child prostitution, so that today Nicaragua is second only to Haiti among the poorest countries in Latin America. In addition to meeting with community members, the student will talk with scholars who have researched the living conditions in Nicaragua as well as contact organizations such as Amnesty International and Americas Watch.

Dr. Bachelor said the partnership Fairfield enjoys with a sister-Jesuit university, the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in Nicaragua, provides a very beneficial support for the kind of research the students will be conducting. While they are based at UCA, the students have ample opportunity to take field trips and explore the region. From their experiences, he said, each student will be expected to write independent and sophisticated research papers.

The service trips to the five U.S. sites have been arranged through Campus Ministry.  Campus Minister Wylie Smith Blake said the students have been hard at work to prepare for their experiences, with research, weekly meetings and fundraising activities.

Posted On: 02-26-2008 10:02 AM

Volume: 40 Number: 187