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Appalachian’s Alternative Service Experience among nation’s top 10 higher education institutions for number of programs

By University Communications

BOONE, N.C.—Appalachian State University’s student-led Alternative Service Experience (ASE) program has been ranked 10th in the nation for the number of alternative break programs it offered in 2015-16. The rankings were compiled by Break Away, a national nonprofit organization that supports the development of quality alternative break programs.

The ASE program is a service opportunity offered through the university’s Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT) office, a volunteer clearinghouse on campus. The ASE program allows students to use their fall, winter or spring break to serve alongside communities through various domestic and international service programs. Service hours donated by Appalachian students in ASE programs during 2015-16 were calculated at more than 13,500.

“Our students have deep commitment for serving the community through volunteer work and service-learning,” Chancellor Sheri N. Everts said. “Their work has been recognized by the President’s Higher Education Honor Roll and the Carnegie Foundation for the Engagement of Teaching. Since 2004, Appalachian has contributed more than $22.3 million in value to the High Country community through our Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT) program alone.”

Out of 178 ranked institutions, the top 10 recognized by Break Away for most programs are, beginning with No. 1: University of Missouri, The Ohio State University, University of Connecticut, Central Michigan University, James Madison University, Vanderbilt University, University of Maryland-College Park, University of Georgia, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and Appalachian.

“Alternative Service Experiences serve as a catalyst for many students to enact positive social change in their own local communities, using the information learned on their ASE for application in a practical and relevant-to-them setting,” Heather Jo Mashburn, assistant director of ACT, said. “These transformational experiences encourage thoughtful dialogue and intentional service alongside communities, all skills that serve to strengthen the learning that takes place during college.”

Appalachian organized seven international and 27 domestic ASE programs in 2015-16. Domestic ASE programs generally take place within 500 miles of Boone and stretch along most of the East Coast. International travel in 2015-16 included service programs to Ecuador, Nicaragua, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Dominican Republic and Peru.

Specific locations are not revealed until students have signed up, Mashburn said. “Our programs are social issue-focused rather than destination based,” she explained. “This is a learning experience, not simply an opportunity to travel.”

Ten or more of the 2015-16 programs focused on environmental issues. Other focus areas included people with diverse abilities, animal welfare, education, food insecurity, health, affordable housing, immigration and refugee resettlement, LGBTQ and gender equity, race and racism and youth development.

ASE programs are created and led by students, and participants are chosen by a lottery system. Scholarships are available for domestic and international programs occurring over spring break. Scholarships vary based on demonstrated financial need and cost of the program; more than $8,000 has been awarded for ASEs occurring this spring break. Course credit is tied to all international ASE programs, as is the student leader training that is required.

In support of Appalachian’s sustainability initiatives and in close partnership with the Office of Sustainability, the ASE programs are carbon neutral. Leaders calculate each program’s carbon emissions generated throughout the experience, and the cost of the offset is included in that program’s budget.

Mashburn said in an effort to improve the efficacy of the international programs, ASE incorporated an intentional language immersion experience. This was made possible through a collaboration with the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures and its graduate students preparing to teach Spanish at the college level, the Office of International Education and Development, and a grant received from the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan.

The lottery for the spring 2017 domestic program was held Jan. 30. Almost 200 lottery packets were distributed with only 136 spots for students available. In total over spring break 2017, 198 members of the Appalachian Community will serve domestically, and 90 members of the Appalachian Community will serve internationally. Each ASE is led by two peer leaders, who are undergraduate students, and one faculty/staff member serving as a learning partner.

About the Alternative Service Experience Program

Appalachian’s Alternative Service Experience Program immerses students in a service experience in local, domestic and international communities. Its programs are created and led by trained student peer leaders and involve direct service alongside a community, purposeful reflection and relationship building with fellow students. All focus on a particular social or environmental issue with intentional education and reflection incorporated in each program. Learn more at

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.