Skip to main content

USD AWOL students spend Spring Break in service

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Fifteen University of South Dakota students spent spring break in three different locations learning about social issues and serving in communities. The trips were planned and coordinated by student site leaders in the Alternative Week of Off-campus Learning (AWOL) student organization. AWOL encourages active citizenship through immersing students in educational service-learning experiences, exposing them to diverse social issues, and encouraging students to apply the wisdom gained through these experiences to their daily lives.

One AWOL group spent their week in Denver, Colo. working with a wide variety of community and non-profit organizations in the areas of sustainability and urban agriculture, including Denver Urban Gardens, Groundwork Denver, Greenleaf, Produce Denver, Sprout City Farms and Urbiculture. Participants Emily Roberson of Tyndall, S.D. (Site Leader), Joslynn Clauson and Carly Holmstrom, both of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Learning Partner Lucia Carlson of Rio Rico, Ariz., got dirty while performing hands-on projects in the areas of urban agriculture, conservation, and sustainability.

Site Leader Erica Kuharski of Rapid City, S.D., Adam Fenton of Temecula, Calif., Chelsea Gilbertson of Vermillion, Jessica Ward of Remsen, Iowa, Veronica Claussen of Jefferson, S.D. and Learning Partner Lauren Schuur, coordinator of Prevention Services with the USD Student Counseling Center, traveled to Silver Springs, Fla., to learn about Wildlife Protection and Conservation, working through the organization Forest Animal Rescue, a lifetime care sanctuary for no-releasable wild animals. The rescued animals were abused or neglected and range from big cats to bears, wolves, primates, bats and more. At Forest Animal Rescue these animals have space and peace that they need to heal and thrive. AWOL participants did not work directly with the animals, but they performed infrastructure improvement projects that helped to improve the grounds and sustain the health and well-being of the animals indirectly.

Additionally, another AWOL group spent spring break in the Rosebud Native American Reservation in South Dakota, volunteering with several agencies to examine poverty on the Reservation. Participants worked with Habitat for Humanity in Mission, S.D., painting rooms and cleaning a house that would eventually be sold to a family in need. The group also worked with preschool children at the Mission and Rosebud Head Start program, with elderly and long-term care for patients with diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s at the White River Healthcare Center, and met with Rosebud Ambulatory Service to learn more about the primary health issues in the area.

Trip participants included: Site Leader Nate Vinzant of Sioux Falls, Logan Bullard of St. Albans, Vt., Andrew Koch of Sioux Falls, Jamie Rykhus of Oak Grove, Minn., Lauren Leichtnam of Vermillion, Emily Pauli of Milbank, S.D., Desiree Su of Sioux City, Iowa, and Learning Partner Sara Boyum of West Point, Neb.


Housed in the Center for Academic Engagement and Global Engagement, AWOL (Alternative Week of Off-Campus Learning) offers students the opportunity to combine community service with education during academic breaks. Prior to departure, students participate in six weeks of educational training. By utilizing experiences and education, AWOL enables students to become active citizens whose community becomes a priority in their everyday life and provides them with avenues for continued community involvement and learning.


USD’s Center for Academic & Global Engagement (CAGE) gives students the chance to gain real-world experience and knowledge and connect with their community and the larger world. CAGE offers academically based opportunities that create skills employers and graduate schools seek. Among them: off-campus service-learning programs, studying abroad, student exchange, undergraduate research and nationally competitive awards and fellowships. CAGE also provides support to international students with cultural and academic adjustments as well as immigration concerns.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 78 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.

This material is available in an alternate format upon request. Please contact University Relations at 605-677-5759. If you are a person with a disability and need a special accommodation to fully participate in any university activity or event, please contact Disability Services at 605-677-6389 as soon as possible, but no later than 48 hours before the event, so that appropriate arrangements may be made.


Hanna DeLange
USD News