This spring break, two groups of students with VT Engage will head out on alternative break trips to experience Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), but they aren’t going far.

The student-led groups will spend the week serving, learning, and immersing themselves in the communities of Sparta, North Carolina, and Hurley, Virginia.

 “Alternative spring break trips tend to involve travel to faraway places to help communities in need. These trips give students the opportunity to connect to and serve with our neighbors,” said student leader Megan Mickey, from Kinnelon, New Jersey, a senior majoring in architecture in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, School of Architecture + Design.

Both trips are designed for students to engage in a holistic community experience by learning about the variety of social and environmental issues facing Sparta and Hurley, with a focus on poverty in a rural setting.

By immersing themselves in each town, students hope to make deeper connections to community members through service projects, reflection, and cultural opportunities. Student leaders will help participants process their experiences through reflection activities and sharing perspectives on service.

One group will return to Hurley, Virginia, for a second year of partnership with Hurley Community Development Inc., a nonprofit committed to revitalizing the town and providing services for low-income families. The trip will focus on challenges facing the rural community and students will learn about the grassroots organizing efforts of community members. Projects will include home repairs for low-income families and serving at clothing and food banks.

For sophomore Junwei (Carl) Yao, from Fuzhou, China, his motivation for co-leading the Hurley trip is personal.

“I want to put my leadership skills to the test, make mistakes, and learn from them. We want our participants to experience something different from here in Blacksburg — not only the geography and culture but also community and social issues,” said Yao, who is majoring in computer science in the College of Engineering

In a new trip to Sparta, North Carolina, participants will take a holistic view at the cultural, environmental, and economic effects of the Blue Ridge Parkway on the community. Students will be immersed in projects focused on national parks preservation, partnering with the nonprofit Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The group will also engage in projects with local organizations focused on serving low-income populations, while learning about Appalachian culture.

The trips are open to all majors and both undergraduate and graduate students. For some students, participation in a service trip over spring break has become a tradition.

Junior Jenny Hwang, of Fairfax, Virginia, is headed on her third trip this year.

“You gain experiences that you cannot gain elsewhere in a short amount of time. The cost of the trip is minimal compared to the experiences you walk away with. I cannot imagine spending my spring break any other way,” said Hwang, who is double majoring in water: resources, policy, and management and environmental resources management in the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

Students are invited to apply to either trip by Jan. 29, but space is limited.

Due to the generosity of donors, there is a limited amount of need-based financial assistance available for these trips. These scholarships will cover up to half of the cost of the trip.

All applicants will be considered. Contact the VT Engage team at for more information.

Written by Lindsey Gleason

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