Alternative spring travels offer service, build skills

Alternative breaks have a long tradition in Iowa with almost every college and university offering some form of travel and community service during spring and other school breaks. Often touted for their unique opportunity to give back, these trips also have an impact on the futures of the students who participate in them.

University of Iowa students working on a garden.

This year, several trips have already occurred and some are happening this week and next. Students are returning to find themselves changed with new ways of thinking about concepts they are learning in the classroom and, in some cases, new ideas about their future career paths. Trips are also largely student-planned and student-led, offering a unique opportunity to build organizational and leadership skills.

“These short-term immersion experiences to really help give students clarity about their goals,” said Iowa Campus Compact Executive Director Emily Shields. “They offer a window into how passions can combine with skills and the career and community service paths available.”

One study found that students who participated in these trips change both their short- and long-term goals and intentions with many planning additional learning and travel experiences and some looking for ways to make their career plans fit with their desire to improve social issues.

More information on this year’s trips below. Find out about other ways students can build skills through community engagement.

News Coverage

Trips Overview


Buena Vista University students are gone this week on trips to four national and international destinations. Follow their blog!

Mount Mercy University students are in Tennessee, Arizona, and Florida this week.


Cornell College students participated in 8 different trips  working on issues including animal welfare, hunger, and Native American rights.

Grand View University students went to Louisiana for disaster recovery.

Iowa State University students participated with the national organization Student Today Leaders Forever (STLF), which provides college students the opportunity to travel to six different states in the United States in the span of nine days. This year, the group is traveling to Champaign, Illinois; Frankfort, Kentucky; Charleston, West Virginia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Athens, Georgia; and Nashville, Tennessee.

Simpson College Religious Life Community sponsored five spring break trips to Alabama, Nashville, Texas, New York and Louisiana. They are all focusing on humanitarian projects. Check out their photo contest.

University of Iowa “Hawkeye Service Teams” went to 12 destinations and worked with 50 community partners March 11-16.


Wartburg College had more than 90 students, faculty and staff travel at the end of February on five service trips to Colorado, Tennessee, New York, Florida, and around the Midwest.

Clarke University students traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio and stayed at the Tau House run by Franciscans for the Poor.