Miner Challenge: Breaking the spring break stereotype

Miners give back in many ways. Many of our students give back by participating in Miner Challenge, a week-long alternative spring break program. Miner Challenge gives students a chance to help individuals and communities affected by issues like poverty, a lack of access to education, homelessness and natural disasters. For 73 Missouri S&T students, their 2016 spring break took them to small, underprivileged areas in states like Kentucky and Louisiana instead of the typical South Padre Island or Fort Lauderdale party scenes.

Some students didn’t wait for spring break to make an impact. During winter break, a team traveled to Santa Julia, Nicaragua, through Panorama Service Expeditions. The team worked to provide access to clean drinking water for the community.

“Our participants were impacted by the idea of privilege in immediate ways, such as the Nicaraguans’ work ethic and outlook on life,” says Miranda Cory, a junior in engineering management from Atchison, Kan., and the Miner Challenge peer involvement advisor. “In America if you ask a high school student what they want to be in the future, they’ll list an occupation, but in Nicaragua, the student will say something along the lines of ‘I want a job to support my family.’ The education and opportunities that we receive are much different and more widespread than what is offered there.”   

Miner Challenge participants become immersed in situations they might not otherwise encounter. By seeing how various people struggle in daily life and making a positive impact on those lives, Missouri S&T students learn valuable teamwork, leadership and communication skills.

“The trips are often a transformational learning experience for the students,” says Jessica Haywood, student service coordinator in the department of student life and Miner Challenge manager. “A lot of times the trips are the first time students see real poverty or homelessness. It is not just a ‘Hey, let’s go volunteer for a short while’ type of involvement; these students return from the trip looking at the world in a different way.”

During the recent spring break, student volunteers traveled to five different locations in teams of 11 to 16, along with a Missouri S&T staff member acting as trip advisor.

“It is not just a ‘Hey, let’s go volunteer for a short while’ type of involvement; these students return from the trip looking at the world in a different way.”

A team in Montgomery, Ala., helped construct houses for struggling families and volunteered at an after-school program. In Colorado Springs, Colo., a team worked with the Care and Share Food Bank to provide meals for those in need. The team in Hammond, La., partnered with the Ginger Ford Fuller Center to improve local housing. In Harden County, Tenn., a team helped socialize rescue dogs and cleaned hiking trails at Horse Creek Wildlife Sanctuary and Animal Refuge. And in Harlan, Ky., a team built and distributed dog houses made from scrap to local homeowners.

A history of service

Miner Challenge began in 2008, with a small team of students traveling to Boone, N.C., to work with two organizations during spring break. Western Youth Network, a group dedicated to bettering the lives of children and youths in the local North Carolina communities through education and role models, and Habitat for Humanity, an organization devoted to building “simple, decent and affordable” housing for those in need, were the first two partners with Miner Challenge.

In 2014, a team traveled outside the country for the first time in the program’s history. A team went to Jinotega, Nicaragua, to help improve young students’ English, mathematics, science and vocational skills.

“Today’s students need to see that they can have an immediate impact on a community,” says John Gallagher, director of student life. “These trips can ‘flip a switch’ and really change their perspectives. I went on the Detroit trip last year, and it was amazing to see these students stepping up and learning to lead others.”

The team members also help the local Rolla community. Miner Challenge participants have volunteered at the Russell House, a home for victims of domestic violence, and the Rolla Animal Shelter and even baked cookies for the local fire department.

No such thing as a free lunch

The team’s trips are all paid for entirely by participant fundraising. Miner Challenge members sell cookie dough in the fall and chocolate-covered strawberries in the spring and hold letter-writing campaigns and crowdfunding to raise the necessary funds
to travel.

Each student in the organization develops leadership skills while working on various jobs throughout the months leading up to the trips.

“One of the best parts of my job is seeing how the trip teams really come together and how the trip leaders grow to take on more and more responsibility,” says Cory. “This was my third year traveling and volunteering as part of Miner Challenge, which has let me see that no matter how small of an impact you have on the community, each little bit stacks up and helps people.”

Interested in helping support the students?

Visit the Miner Challenge website at minerchallenge.mst.edu or email stulife@mst.edu.

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