Through the Center for Academic Engagement’s (CAE) Alternative Week of Off-campus Learning (AWOL) Program, nine students and one staff member traveled to Detroit, Mich., where they worked with Motor City Blight Busters, Focus: Hope, and St. Vincent DePaul’s Thrift Store. Ten students went to New Orleans and worked with to rebuild homes and communities destroyed by hurricanes; while another team of 10 from USD worked with the Re-Member organization on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Eleven students and two staff members also traveled to Portland, Ore., to learn about the issues of poverty and homelessness.

“The most educational part of our trip was working side-by-side with community members,” said Alexa Walker, student site leader from Vermillion, S.D., who spent spring break in Detroit working with USD students on different projects, including the demolition of an abandoned house, building a neighborhood coffee shop, tutoring elementary youth, and working in a thrift shop.

In addition to Walker, trip participants included Marcus Brooks of Sioux Falls, S.D., Annie Brown of Portland, Ore., Andrea Carroll of Sioux City, Iowa, Andrew Schmitz of Petersburg, Neb., Emily Struck and Joseph Tielke of Yankton, S.D., Rachael Weber of Columbus, Neb., Lizzy Wetering of Worthington, Minn., and Jacquie Lonning, Coordinator of Academic Engagement.

Download a photo of Weber of Columbus, Neb., and Wetering of Worthington, Minn., cleaning up at the worksite in Detroit.

Five years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of Hurricane Rita, work continues in the New Orleans area as progress persists in Louisiana’s largest community.

“The obvious effects of the storm were still widely visible,” said USD student Shuree Hohn of Watertown, S.D. “As small as my impact was, I am glad to have had the impact to serve and help the Ninth Ward.”

Students traveling to New Orleans were Chelsea Geditz of Yankton, S.D., Kelsey Hlebichuk of Sioux Falls, S.D., Justin Kloster of Brandon, S.D., Becca Linneweber of Garretson, S.D., Tyler Olsen of Plankinton, S.D., Alexandra Ortiz of Storm Lake, Iowa, Alex Wetering of Worthington, Minn., and student site leader Alex Brummer of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Dan Rohmiller, USD Housing graduate assistant from Lawton, Iowa. While helping out in the Ninth Ward, the group from USD also roofed homes, sheet-rocked walls and ceilings, and deconstructed the interior of a house.

Weather difficulties limited the service-learning trip at Pine Ridge, but students still made use of their time with various building projects as well as distributing food and other grocery items collected at Yankton High School before visiting the reservation. 

“This trip encompassed many aspects of human development like the formation of relationships, the better understanding of cultural diversity, and the empowerment of a common goal,” said Seth Parsons, a USD student from Pierre, S.D. “I feel obligated to share my better understanding on how a truly unified world should be.”

Others volunteering their time at Pine Ridge were Eric Schlimgen of Rapid City, S.D., Zach Walters of Yankton, S.D., Abbey Jones of Watertown, S.D., Michaela Seiber of Sisseton, S.D., Shane Bryan of Oacoma, S.D., Frank DePaula of Sao Paulo, Brazil, student site leader Allison Struck of Yankton, S.D., and staff members Jesse Sewell of Kahoka, Mo., and Doni Gustafson.

Download a photo of Bryan of Oacoma, S.D., and Seiber of Sisseton, S.D., putting up shelves at a home in Pine Ridge.

Students from The U Patrick Doyle of Rapid City, S.D., Shari Fischbach of Mellette, S.D., Kristen Kramlich of Eureka, S.D., Abby Lichter, Heather Steffen, and student site leader Kevin Cwach of Yankton, S.D., Lana McCoy of Sioux Falls, S.D., Melissa Newborg of Alvord, Iowa, Amber Thorpe of Olivia, Minn., Jessa Waters of Vermillion, S.D., Kristin Wempe of Mitchell, S.D., and USD staff members Karl Reasoner of Vermillion, S.D., and Brittany VanHove traveled west to Portland where they participated in a homeless-immersion program, worked in local day and night shelters, and packed more than 7,000 meals with the Oregon Food Bank.

Information from Portland along with all of AWOL’s service-learning trips in March has been shared at AWOL members participated in blogging before, during and after their week of service as part of a grant from the Midwest Consortium for Service-Learning in Higher Education. More information about AWOL is also available at

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