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Undergraduate Student Life

About the Program

Mission Statement

The Alternative Break Program (ABP) fosters student leadership development and a life-long interest and commitment to civic engagement by supporting student-driven, civic-engagement projects on academic breaks. 

Vision & Values Statement

The ABP is a student-led, and administrator-managed, program that provides programmatic and financial support for students’ independent development and leadership of domestic or international civic-engagement projects over winter, spring, or summer breaks. The ABP uses Civic Competencies as its goals and the 5 Pathways to Service as its tools to strengthen the various communities of which the program is a part.

ABP-supported civic engagement projects challenge participants to reflect critically upon their role in addressing challenges in their various campus, local, national, and global communities and what types of service will best address those challenges.  

The ABP does not organize or lead civic engagement projects. Eligible student(s) submit proposals for civic engagement project ideas that address the community in which the student(s) wish to serve, the challenge they wish to address, and the type of civic engagement they feel will best address those challenges in those communities. These proposals are reviewed and evaluated by the ABP Student Advisory Board and Student Engagement staff. Proposals that are accepted receive ABP-support, which includes training, advisement, and funding for travel.

The success of any alternative break civic engagement project depends on the leadership of the project’s student leaders and the dedication and hard work of the team.

Students interested in getting more information about the program should continue to visit this website for updates, or, for immediate questions, email the ABP directly.

"Challenging Service"

Our motto - "Challenging Service" - is not meant to imply that people shouldn't serve or volunteer, but it is meant to get people to think critically about how and why they do that work. 

The ABP is founded on two primary civic-engagement principals. First an ABP team's work is solution-based. Second, the program strongly encourages teams to use Social Entrepreneurship when designing their civic engagement projects.

Sometimes well-meaning service is at best unhelpful, and at worst hurtful to the very communities that need help. Why? Because the well-meaning people seeking to serve have not taken the time to learn from the community what the challenges are and what tools are needed to address them. 

The ABP challenges you to think critically about civic engagement and how you match your team's interests, resources, talents, and time with the community you want to serve and the challenge you want to tackle. 

Funding Model

Beginning in 2014, ABP will fund selected projects through the purchase of airline tickets for up to six participants, per project, or through the funding of a Hertz rental car for the project. (This travel will be paid for using Columbia University payment process and cannot be managed through personal reimbursements.)

To determine transportation funding for each project, the ABP will evaluate selected proposals and award transportation to up to six of the most integral project participants.

Projects from recognized student groups need written support from their group's president because the project may impact the group' finances through the use of the group's financial university account. 

Project participants are required contribute $100 (for international) or $50 (domestic) to their project before ABP funds can be spent on that participant. The contribution is nonrefundable, meaning if a participant drops out of the project, he/she cannot get their contribution back.

Project Leaders

Project Leaders are the two people who have submitted the final proposal and accepted the responsibility for the organization and leadership of a civic engagement project. It is required that a team has two Project Leaders. 

Healthy teams work together and share a vision, responsibilities, and leadership roles. Teams have autonomy in terms of how they want to organize themselves. For example, teams may choose to use a horizontal organizational structure that uses consensus decision-making. Regardless, a team must designate two Project Leaders that assume responsibility for working with the ABP to ensure the success of the team.

Project Leader Responsibilities

We’re excited that you’re interested in organizing and leading a civic engagement project with the ABP! It could potentially be a life-changing experience for you, your team, the community with which you will work and even the communities of which you are a part.

Organizing and running an ABP-supported civic engagement project, however, is a lot of work and responsibility. 

As the group’s organizer and leader, you will be responsible for:

  • Ensuring the group follows all ABP policies and procedures, including adhering to deadlines and attending trainings
  • Working with other ABP project leaders to share ideas, brainstorn solutions to challenges, and provide support to each other
  • Recruiting and developing your team
  • Establishing and completing your team’s goals for the civic engagement project
  • Working with the sponsor organization
  • Building and adhering to a budget
  • Securing the funding required for the civic engagement project

Student Advisory Board

The ABP is a student-led and administrator-managed program. The students who lead the program make up the ABP Advisory Board.

The Board is made up of four Columbia University students from the various schools. The Chair is the primary leader for the ABP. The Board works with the project leaders to develop their civic engagement projects and review and evaluate project proposals and recommend various levels of financial support to Student Engagement staff. 

The ABP Chair and Student Engagement staff operate the program so that students – board members, team leaders, project participants – learn about, and strive to practice the Student Engagement Civic Competencies. They ensure that the ABP is a living laboratory for the 5 Pathways to Service, fostering the idea that we all have a responsibility to our various communities and that those who seek to serve think through and employ the form(s) of civic engagement that will best address a particular community challenge.

The ABP Chair and Student Engagement staff are committed to a strong student-leadership development model that fosters student creativity, independence, responsibility, program ownership and the cultivation of a healthy program culture. This model encourages enthusiastic, conscientious and humble service, where the students work with and learn from the individuals and communities they seek to serve. Lastly, they must ensure that the program operates in a way that keeps the safety of all involved at its center.

You can reach the Chair directly via email


View the ABP Final Proposal Sample.pdf.

What type of information is required in the proposals?

The preliminary and final proposals will ask you to provide the following information:

  • Whether you are applying as an independent team of students or as a team sponsored by recognized student group
  • What community you wish to serve
  • Where domestically or internationally you want to serve
  • What type of service you can provide
  • How you and your team will take what you’ve learned through your civic engagement project and how you can share those lessons with the Columbia community
  • Your travel itinerary
  • Team budget
  • Preparation plans
  • Information about your sponsor organization
  • Other information that may help the ABP Board fairly and accurately evaluate your team’s proposal

The preliminary proposal is designed to help foster ideas and to help those submitting the proposal to organize themselves as well as communicate to the ABP committee what they want to accomplish and how. The final proposal is a document that demands very specific information that shows the ABP committee that the group submitting the proposal has prepared properly and done the necessary research and planning that a quality alternative break project takes. 

How will the proposals be evaluated? 

I. Preliminary Proposals

Preliminary proposals are evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Feasibility and safety of the proposed civic engagement project
  • Clearly outlined goals of the civic engagement project – including what the team hopes to accomplish in the community in which it is to work, what the team hopes to learn from the experience, and how the experience will have a sustainable impact within the community
  • Identification of and tentative acknowledgement from a credible sponsor organization
  • Composition and size of team as well as how the team will be recruited
  • Team and team member expectations
  • Anticipated budget
  • Travel Logistics
  • Lodging Logistics

Once preliminary proposals are submitted they will be evaluated by the ABP and may be moved forward to the next round of the proposal process or rejected. If a proposal is rejected before the final deadline, students may seek advice from the ABP board on how to modify their preliminary proposal and resubmit. If the preliminary proposal is accepted, students are invited to submit a final proposal.

II. Final Proposals

Final proposals may be accepted with financial support, or accepted without financial support, or rejected.

  • Final proposals accepted with financial support will be awarded an ABP matching grant that is based on the team’s final proposal. Teams that accept the ABP matching-grant are considered ABP-sponsored projects and therefore are required to follow the ABP policies and procedures, attend the trainings and to work with the ABP on developing and leading the civic engagement project.
  • Final proposals accepted without financial support will be invited to participate in the ABP trainings and will be able to access the ABP for guidance and support. These civic engagement projects, however, are autonomous from the ABP.

Alternative Break Program


515 Alfred Lerner Hall
2920 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

Call: 212-854-1371

Fax: 212-854-6972

9:00 a.m.–5:00p.m.