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Students embark on service-oriented spring break trips to Flint, Michigan, and beyond

March 2, 2016

Students pack kits that test water quality in Flint, Michigan
In February, members of the Flint Water Study team packed up 300 water-testing kits for delivery to Flint, Michigan, over spring break.

For students on Professor Marc Edwards’ research team, it’s a no-brainer. They will spend spring break in Flint, Michigan.

Anurag Mantha and Maggie Carolan, two of Edwards' students on the Flint Water Study team, are taking a group from the College of Engineering on an alternative spring break trip next week, March 5-12. The team, led by Edwards, the Charles Lunsford Professor of civil and environmental engineering, discovered more than 133 times the amount of lead on average was in the water than the maximum allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

During spring break, the students will participate in a variety of projects in Flint, including distributing the remaining water kits to residents for testing, home-building through Habitat for Humanity, working with the Disability Network program, visiting schools to discuss water safety, and spending time with community leaders.

The trip is sponsored by St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center in Flint, and students will stay with residents with the goal of developing a relationship with them and the city.

"We want other students to see that Flint residents are resilient and that the city is a safe place to live," said Mantha, a doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering from Hyderabad, India. "We also hope students understand the value of service in general, and that they reflect on it and carry it with them throughout their lives."

Carolan, of Stafford, Virginia, is an undergraduate majoring in water: resources, policy, and management in the department of Forest Resources College of Natural Resources and Environment.

Virginia Tech News will follow the students throughout the trip.

Many other students will participate in alternative spring break trips organized by colleges, departments and VT Engage, the service learning and civic engagement center in the Division of Student Affairs. 

"These trips emphasize student learning," said Lucy Adams, engagement program associate for VT Engage. "They are designed for students to explore social issues in a hands-on, intensive, experiential way. Our leaders spend many hours preparing for the trips and will hold reflection sessions throughout the week that help connect the service to the wider social issues."

The trips include the following

  • Hurley, Virginia: The Honors Residential Community, in partnership with VT Engage, is sending 17 students to the impoverished coal-mining town in Southwest Virginia to serve with Hurley Community Development. The group will make home repairs for residents.
  • Southern New Jersey: More than three years after Hurricane Sandy made landfall on Oct. 29, 2012, a lot of work still needs to be done along the New Jersey coast. While most of the boardwalks, sea walls, and beaches are restored, thousands of families still need of help. It has become more cost-effective for homeowners to demolish their homes and rebuild. Ten students will help demolish one of these houses with the organization Heart and Hands Disaster Recovery.
  • New York City: Eleven students are heading to New York City to partner with GMHC, an organization serving men, women, and children at risk of and affected by HIV/AIDS. They will work in GMHC’s soup kitchen, prepare educational materials, and explore the many issues surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic. GMHC connects people with resources to reduce the symptoms of the disease, educates people on preventing HIV infection, and advocates for policies that support care and education.
  • New Orleans: The rebuilding efforts in New Orleans following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina continue today. Eleven students will work with Common Ground Relief, a community-initiated organization rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward from and restoring the Gulf Coast wetlands. Students will be volunteering mainly with the Wetlands Restoration Program, planting trees and marsh grasses, working in the nursery, removing invasive species, and helping within the Lower Ninth Ward Neighborhood.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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