BETHANY - Some Bethany College students and faculty spent their spring break volunteering at 16 area organizations, while others learned about life in other countries.
Seven students participated in Bethany's first Alternative Spring Break, logging more than 350 volunteer hours with the following groups: American Red Cross, Bethany Park, Bethany Memorial Church, Boys and Girls Club, Brooke County Animal Shelter, Brooke County Library, Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling, Brooke Hills Park, Community Action Southwest, MaryAnn Manor, YMCA, Faith In Action, Wyngate Senior Living Center, Samaritan House, Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homelessness, and Child's Place Court-Appointed Special Advocate program.
The students gathered each evening to reflect on the day's events and discuss their observations.
"This has been one of my best experiences at Bethany College during my four years here," said senior Cynthia Richardson.
Alternative Spring Break was sponsored by the school's Student Activities Council and led by freshman Alex Henry, SAC traditions and community chair, and Director of Student Activities Heather Mullendore with the help of Enrollment Counselor Justin Miller.
Led by biology professor John T. Burns and fine arts professor Kenn Morgan, five students visited the Galapagos Islands on an eight-day boat cruise just two days after airline access to the destination was canceled for a day by tsunami warnings.
Arriving on March 14, the group heard of extensive damage to a new hotel from the tsunami but saw little damage elsewhere.
"We felt fortunate to undertake our long-planned trip, despite the earthquake and other major disasters in Japan directly across the Pacific," said Burns, advisor for the Tri-Beta Biological Honorary Society that planned the trip.
Burns noted that Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in 1835 and made observations of the geology and wildlife that contributed to his later formulation of the theory of natural selection.
Partially retracing Darwin's route, the Bethany College group observed firsthand the odd mix of plants and animals that have colonized the islands after being carried there by rafts of vegetation from rivers 600 miles to the east in South America, in the clay on the feet of migrating birds, or by oceanic currents.
Large iguanas that forage in the sea for algae, penguins, flamingos, frigate birds and sea lions are just a few of the spectacular inhabitants of the Galapagos.
The ship Golondrina served as home for the group during their voyage. Most days included hiking over volcanic rocks to sea bird nesting sites and sea lion colonies as well as swimming and snorkeling in the unspoiled marine waters, inhabited by many species of colorful fish, sea lions, and occasional sharks and stingrays.
Species endemic to the Galapagos, such as the marine and land iguanas; blue footed, red-footed and masked boobies; and Darwin's finches were of special interest to participants.
The once-in-a-lifetime trip was made possible through a variety of sources, including fundraisers, gifts from businesses and individuals, student deposits, Student Government Association funding, and a NASA Faculty Research Enhancement Award to Burns to study the chronobiological adaptations of Galapagos species to temporal niches.
Burns said, "As amazing as our trip was, equally striking is the number of generous people on- and off-campus who have encouraged and supported in some fashion this unique trip for Bethany College students."
Morgan is developing an art show inspired by the journey. The show will include photography, video, paintings, drawings and memorabilia installations created by the students and both professors. It will be displayed in Bethany's Renner Art Gallery next fall and will be open to the public.
Political science professor Clint Maffett led the College's International Relations and Black Alliance Clubs on a trip through London to the Gambia, marking the International Relations Club's ninth visit there.
The Gambia, a country in West Africa, is part of the Smiling Coast, a name given because of the kindness and hospitality for which the people there are known.
Students toured a variety of historical sites, museums and family compounds, as well as nature reserves that included Kiang State Park, Abuku Nature Reserve and a monkey reserve.
As part of a visit to the Banjul Market, they negotiated with sellers for local arts and crafts. Students also distributed money, shoes and school supplies to Gambian students in need.
In addition, participants took part in meetings with human rights and environmental organizations, government officials, the Gambia College, students and school administrators and American Embassy personnel.
A number of Bethany alums living in the region visited with the group. Malleh Sallah, a 1991 graduate of Bethany who serves as deputy director of the electoral commission, briefed students on the upcoming elections he was supervising.
Maffett presented students information on the work being done by his the Gambian Conservancy and plans for an internship program that will allow students from various academic disciplines to complete a professional internship there.
Marc Sable, assistant political science professor and director of international studies, traveled to Cairo, Egypt, to see how the country has changed in the wake of the January 25 revolution and to make contacts for future projects.
Sable said he found a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere, with easy entry in the airport, few soldiers in the streets, and a noticeable decline from his previous visits in the number of interior ministry police.
Sable met with the chairman of the political science department at the American University in Cairo, attended a forum at which representatives of new political parties spoke, and met with Dr. Abou Zeid Rageh, an architect and urban planning expert; and Dr. Aly Hamed Elghatit, an international law attorney and father of current Bethany student Nanice Elghatit.
Sable also visited Tahrir Square to watch demonstrations about the proposed constitutional amendments, interviewed an activist and protest participant, and spoke with community members on March 19, when Egyptians participated in their historic first free and fair elections, a referendum on the proposed constitutional amendments.