Student Spotlight / Jessica Reese

Jessica Reese, coordinator of Alternate Spring Break  Photo credit: Mark Stehle

A DIFFERENT KIND OF BREAK: Jessica Reese, a senior biology major in the School of Arts and Sciences who is starting at Penn Vet in the fall, went south during Penn’s Spring Break—but not to the beaches of Daytona, Fla. or Cancún, Mexico. Instead, Reese and 13 fellow Penn students traveled to North Carolina, near the city of Wilmington, for Alternate Spring Break. There, the students focused on environmental cleanups, pitching in to clear trails and haul away 35 trash cans full of old glass from a former dumping site.

ACROSS THE COUNTRY: Reese serves as co-director of internal affairs for Alternate Spring Break, a Penn organization that sponsors community service trips to diverse areas across the country. Penn students spend their spring breaks engaged in hands-on community service work, from building homes to removing invasive species from some of the country’s natural treasures.

WHERE DID STUDENTS GO?: Student groups traveled with Habitat for Humanity on trips to Okiciyapi Tipi, S.D.; Denver, Colo.; Statesville, N.C. and Almost Heaven, W.Va. Groups also worked with the National Park Service in the Florida Everglades, learned about rural poverty in Pipestem, W.Va. and urban poverty in New York City as well as Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis, Tenn. They also helped to repair trails and plant oyster beds in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

THIRD TIME AROUND: Reese has participated in Alternate Spring Break since her sophomore year, when she headed down to the Florida Everglades. She admits, before she left, she had a small twinge of regret that she wasn’t packing up to head to the beach, like many of her classmates. But as it turned out, her experience was transformative. “It was probably the most amazing week of my life at Penn,” she says. The following year, Reese went to a border town between Texas and Mexico. There, students did outreach work and learned about the experiences of illegal immigrants in the U.S. “It put a different spin on [the issue] entirely,” she says.

MODEST DIGS: Students who go on Alternate Spring Break trips stay at hostels or churches, and that’s part of the fun. Students who wouldn’t normally meet come together and form tight bonds on these trips, Reese adds. “It’s amazing how quickly you connect with people.”

CAPTURED ON FILM: To showcase some striking photos from Alternate Spring Break trips, as well as pictures from other Penn service-oriented trips, Civic House is hosting an exhibit that will run April 14 through 25. Reese doesn’t have any shots in the show this year, but has in years past.

MORE INFO: Check the Civic House website for more info about the exhibit, at Learn more about Alternate Spring Break at

Originally published on March 25, 2010