Lawrence University First-Gen Students Explore Service, Sustainability, and Stewardship on Alternative Spring Break

Kristi Koshuta, Grace C. Johnson, Juan Arguello, Lawrence University Student Life & First-Gen Support Services / The Center / May 14, 2024

Lawrence University Alternative Spring Break

In March 2024, students from Lawrence University (LU) spent a week at the university’s northern campus, Björklunden, for a week of service, sustainability, and stewardship projects. This Alternative Spring Break opportunity was the first time the university offered this program, giving students staying on campus during spring break an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and engage in service projects.

70% of our participants were first-generation students. We did intentional outreach to encourage First-Gen students to attend, and to make the trip more financially accessible, fee waivers were offered to all first-gen students who attended on behalf of a very generous donor, Dale Schuh, and his wife Annette. The Schuh support fund is playing an instrumental role in leveling the playing field for our first-gen students at Lawrence University by providing them support and funding to engage in on- and off-campus opportunities that enhance their personal development and college experience.

“We wanted to provide students an opportunity to enjoy time outdoors and to learn about and experience the larger Door County community through service and activities,” said Second Year Dean, Juan Arguello.

The design of this experience was a collaborative team effort headed by Arguello and Tom McKenzie, Director of Björklunden, and supported by Carter Robinson (Sustainability Coordinator), and Kristi Koshuta (First Year Dean). Other Lawrence staff, Erin Buenzli, Matthew DeChant, and Enya Roach (graduate intern), were also able to support our experience and spend some time with the students at Björklunden.

Lawrence University NM Blog campfire
During their week, students participated in a number of stewardship activities. In addition to hearing a little about the history of the land at Björklunden, the students sat down with Jill Newman, Strategic Planning Consultant and Facilitator, to design a new butterfly garden habitat around the facility’s solar panel fields. Trips to The Ridges and Mud Lake had students help clear the corridor between the two Range lights, plant trees at Mud Lake, and help collect data on previous tree planting efforts by the Climate Change Coalition. Evenings were spent socializing, playing games, reading in the great room, crafting, painting, or just spending time by the bon fire roasting marshmallows and sharing in each other’s company. 

After a day of service, they got to explore the town of Sister Bay -shopping, dining on local fair, and bowling - before heading up to Newport State Park for an opportunity to stargaze in a dark sky park. Additional activities included hikes with Jane Whitney, local master naturalist, to Toft Point and a land acknowledgment welcome with Door County poet laureate, Tom Davis, and his wife Ethel Mortenson Davis.

“I hope this can become a tradition for years to come,” one student noted in a feedback survey. “I am excited to see how our work at Björklunden makes a positive contribution to its future.”

Other students shared, “I liked getting off campus and interacting with the local community, as well as learning about the topography of the area” and “I greatly enjoyed the experience and look forward to doing it again.”

Lawrence University NM Blog Inline matching shirts
Getting students into our northern community beyond the boundaries of our Björklunden campus was a bonus as shared by one student. “The whole trip was super fun and interesting and well-balanced in term of activities vs free time. It was really cool to be able to meet and work with Tom [McKenzie] on improving Björklunden and it felt meaningful to share ideas about the butterfly habitat and put work into cleaning the area and sowing the wildflower seeds. The day at Baileys Harbor and Sister Bay was very interesting and fun and I appreciated the opportunity to explore Door County beyond Björklunden.”

Luckily, the weather cooperated. The wildflower seeds were sown across the butterfly garden area just before the snow. The students returned to Appleton with a wonderful sense of accomplishment! This was an overall amazing experience for our first-gen students, who come from all walks of life, and varying interests and majors that don’t even align with sustainability. But they now share a spark for what impact they can make in the future at Björklunden and beyond.

For more information on Lawrence University's approach, please visit their website here.