Students tackle public health, climate change, LGBT rights on Alternative Spring Break

One hundred sixty five students are participating in the Center of Community Service’s Alternative Spring Break program. They are working on a total of 17 projects in nine states and six countries. Graphic by YoungHee Jang.

Johanna Loepke, CIS/S’20, has an affinity for the ocean. She’s a certified scuba diver. And she’s keenly aware of the impact of climate change on mangroves and coral reefs. “I know that our oceans need to be protected,” says Loepke, a third-year student studying computer science and cognitive psychology. “They’re really vulnerable right now.”

It’s why she’s in the Bahamas this week, studying sea turtles as part of a citizen science project aimed at shaping future conservation practices. Working with scientists from Earthwatch, a nonprofit environmental organization, Loepke and 10 other Northeastern students are snorkeling out to the creatures, taking tissue samples, and tagging them with tracking devices.

“By tracking this information we’re able to get a picture of what the human impact is on the ocean and its inhabitants,” Loepke explains. “If the evidence is compelling enough, it could lead to creating a marine protected area in the Bahamas.”

Johanna Loepke, left, and Matthew Cueto on Alternative Spring Break at a coffee farm in 2017. Photo by Tallie Huasser.

Loepke is one of 165 students participating in the Center of Community Service’s 2018 Alternative Spring Break program. The students are volunteering in nine states and six countries, addressing critical social issues like public health, affordable housing, and sustainable food.

For Loepke, “trying to combat climate change is a great way to spend spring break.” Others are volunteering in schools, villages, and sustainable living centers, doing everything from installing solar panels to harvesting corn. Some will be taking over Northeastern’s Snapchat account to showcase their experiences. Students will post photos and videos from Utah’s Best Friends Animal Sanctuary on Tuesday; Arizona’s Saguaro National Park on Wednesday; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association on Thursday; and Atlanta’s Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.

Lauren Enright, S’20, is tacking childhood health and education in Lima, Peru. In particular, she is volunteering at a community center for impoverished youth who have been displaced from their families and working to help them improve their English language skills, eating habits, and hygiene practices.

Trying to combat climate change is a great way to spend spring break.

Johanna Loepke CIS/S’20

“We’re here to support the community’s needs,” says Enright, a third-year behavioral neuroscience major. “We’re hoping to help make a sustainable impact and enable these kids to go on to break the cycle of poverty.”

Her work in Peru is the latest example of her belief in the power of education to transform lives. For the past two-and-a-half years, she’s run health education programs for Boston Public School students through Northeastern’s chapter of Peer Health Exchange. “I’m hoping to work with children in the future,” she explains, “and education is something I’m really passionate about.”

Diego Rivera, E’21, is volunteering at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia, where he’s helping to organize its 14,000-volume library. “It’s really rewarding,” says Rivera, a second-year mechanical engineering major. “To help people is always a great experience.”

Rivera is an ASB veteran. While volunteering a national park in Oklahoma in 2017, he worked with park rangers who exhibited such a passion for their jobs that it inspired him to seek out an equally fulfilling career. Now he wants to go into the product design field. “It was amazing to see the passion the park rangers had for their work,” he explains. “I’ve taken that as inspiration for what I want to do with my life.”