Tag Archives: CCE

CCE Signature Program: Middlebury Alternative Break (MAlt)

Middlebury’s Alternative Break Program (MAlt) functions as a service-oriented alternative to traditional February break activities. By engaging with communities across the nation and the globe, students share an experience, provide service where service is needed, and learn about the systems that shape community realities around the world.

This year, three student-designed, student-led virtual projects took place over J-Term and spring semester. 

Topics revolved around US immigration education and advocacy, environmental conservation amid the pandemic, and the experiences of women of color in predominantly white spaces. While the pandemic introduced a set of challenges for organizing and carrying out the trips, the MAlt leaders were just as determined and dedicated to fostering engaging and welcoming environments for participants. MAlt trip leaders Olivia O’Brien (’21.5) and Alex Burns (’21.5) highlighted their excitement for hosting the guest speaker Lina Maria Murillo, a professor of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality studies and a Borderlands Historian at University of Iowa, who elaborated upon immigrant detention as a reproductive justice issue. Tina Cai (’23) and Huiming Liang (’22) coordinated with different environmental conservation groups to host a speaker series of varying perspectives on and changes to environmental advocacy, while Destini Armstrong (’21) and Megan Job (’21) collaborated with the Center for Community Engagement to send personalized care packages and activities to students. 

When asked about what inspired their MAlt Trip, leaders illustrated their desire to explore issues and share a space for students to develop the tools to make a difference. Tina noted that she saw the “potential to help organizations through community service virtually and learn from leaders from different nonprofits”, which fueled her and her trip-partners’ drive to host a speaker series along with a workshop. Some of the leaders were also eager to explore their topics as a result of their previous involvement in MAlt trips, such as Alex and Olivia, who collaborated with San Antonio–based RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services through a MAlt trip in 2019 and came away “feeling as through other Middlebury students should get involved”. Oliva shared, “we both realized this was work we wanted to continue in a more meaningful and long-term format, and by leading a trip year on the topic of immigration, we could get more Middlebury students involved in work that we both view as incredibly important”. 

Olivia advises that students apply to become MAlt leaders because the trip “allows you to introduce fellow Midd students to an issue or topic that you are passionate about. In my experience as both a participant and a leader, MAlt consistently creates a positive community of students that are eager to learn more about a particular topic (and from one another), and motivated to put in work towards often complex/difficult goals” Tina further communicates that through the MAlt trips, students are able to “enhance their leadership skills…while gaining personal growth through collaborating with different individuals” as well as “meet people who share the same passions and make connections”.

MAlt attendees responded happily to the leaders’ efforts. A participant of the US immigration education and advocacy trip imparts, “My experience with my MAlt trip was illuminating, inspiring, and intense. Although we did not physically travel, we did navigate the intellectual and legal landscapes that surround the immigration system in the United States to further our understanding of this reality. Engaging in the process of learning alongside other members allowed me to feel part of a community that also is dedicated in changing systems in place to control and oppress individuals”. Participant Zeke Hodkin also notes, “MAlt trips are such impactful ways to spend one’s free time from college because they introduce and seek to counter the injustices that pervade our society. The premise of MAlt is not just to enter a community, allow it to impact the voyeur, and have the individual leave; instead, MAlt really does focus on the intersection of growth through education and action against societal wrongs”. By learning more in depth about and engaging in reflections over complex issues, participants emphasized the necessity to move from a sense of understanding towards (often political) action. 

Thank you to all the MAlt leaders and participants for your eagerness to develop your knowledge and act for change! 

Grant Spotlight: Academic Outreach Endowment Grant

This blog is on Niwaeli Kimambo’s, Assistant Professor of Geography, Fall 2020 course.

An analysis of deforestation in protected areas shows tree cover and tree cover loss alongside protected areas boundaries (map by Charlie DiPrinzio ’21)

The Center for Community Engagement supports Middlebury College faculty seeking to deepen student learning through collaborative projects with community organizations. We recently had the chance to connect with Dr. Niwaeli Kimambo, Assistant Professor of Geography and talked more about her Fall 2020 Remote Sensing and Land Use in Sub-Saharan Africa course (GEOG 0351). With support from an CCE Academic Outreach Endowment Grant, Dr. Kimambo was able to partner students with the World Resources Institute (WRI) on a project entitled, “Mapping Landcover Change in Restoration Landscapes.”

Prior to embarking on extensive forest restoration, WRI partners needed to understand the landscape changes that have taken place historically in target restoration sites and remote satellite imagery is a powerful way for analyzing such changes. Students worked with the WRI to perform these needed preliminary analyses of landscape change, contributing to a more efficient preparation for restoration activities. Students conducted analyses for restoration areas in Malawi, Cameroon, Niger, and Rwanda. Below are Dr. Kimambo’s reflections on this collaboration.

How have community collaborations contributed to your teaching and research? 

Collaborating with Dr. Arakwiye at World Resources Institute has enabled me to bring real-world problems to the classroom and inspired new avenues of research. I found that students were more engaged with the content because there was an audience on the other end: someone who was keen to see what they came up with. The collaborations that started in the classroom have also spilled over into research, and will certainly spill back into the classroom.

Can you share an example of a particularly gratifying moment of student learning related to the community-connected project you facilitated?

We held several workshops of work in progress with our community partner. After one of these workshops, one student remarked how it was evident that lessons learnt in the classroom can be applied to solving world problems. As a teacher, knowing that students can apply what they have learned in my class is important to me. The project made that very apparent.

Do you have any advice for those who may seek to collaborate on a project?

Start small, plan early, and take advantage of technology. The current pandemic moment spurred more virtual communication, which allowed collaboration with a community partner who was on the other side of the globe!

Dr. Kimambo’s WRI colleague reflected on the partnership by sharing, “My collaboration with Middlebury students has pushed our work forward in the use of geospatial technologies for monitoring landscape restoration. Here are some examples of how:

  • Middlebury students compared various tree cover maps and even generated new ones of their own. This was an illuminating and impressive exercise. I would be interested in pursuing this topic further, particularly assessing how Collect Earth data can be used to further improve tree cover maps of our target landscapes.
  • During workshops and in their final writeups, Middlebury students gave me valuable feedback on the geospatial surveys I had designed. For example, students pointed out challenging components such as, i) how to estimate tree cover and tree density inside a plot; ii) what land cover types are difficult to interpret satellite imagery. Having this information has already helped me improve our training materials and will ultimately lead to a better implementation of restoration monitoring work in the target landscapes.”