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Beginning in 2007-2008 students interested in developing more support for international civic engagement and service, led by Nishi Kumar (CC '10), came together to form the Columbia Students for International Service (CSIS). CSIS was recognized by the Student Governing Board, but the students quickly realized that in order to fulfill their vision, CSIS would need greater institutional support.

In 2010, the office that later became Student Engagement (Office of Civic Action and Engagement - OCAE), was in the process of re-envisioning its spring break service trip. At the time, an OCAE administrator organized and ran a spring break trip for about 15 undergraduate students. These trips had traveled to post-Katrina New Orleans and Native  communities in South Dakota. The program struggled to gain significant interest and the trip and service were essentially token direct service, volunteer tourism and/or cultural immersions. It seemed that the students were interested in more challenging and comprehensive civic engagement programing

That fall two sophomores, and active members of CSIS, Alicia Ciocca (CC ’13) and Melissa Peterson (CC ’13), walked into the office of OCAE administrator, Pete Cerneka, to discuss ways to expand support for CSIS. The three had a long conversation about CSIS, service, and effective civic engagement. They brainstormed ideas that could give CSIS more support and help OCAE rethink its spring break service trip. Over the next several weeks the ideas began to take the shape of an administrative program that would allow students to seek out and get support for developing their own civic engagement projects, both international and domestic. By the end of the first semester, the framework and funding for what would become the ABP was in place.

Ciocca, Peterson, and Cerneka created a pilot project together in Guatemalan landfill communities for spring break 2011. The goals were modest. The project sought to create a curriculum for the team that explored the challenges of landfill communities in Guatemalan. And then, working with the community partner, Safe Passage, in Guatemala, learned how people from developed countries could be better partners to people in developing countries.In turn,  the team hoped to educate the Columbia community about what it learned. The pilot project proceeded smoothly, and while accomplishing the team’s goals saw mixed results, it was clear to all involved that the ABP model was something students were interested in, potentially could help communities, and was a workable administrative program.

Though the ABP continues to evolve and improve, the first iteration of the ABP closely resembles the program today. Students develop a civic engagement project based on exploring a community challenge and the interests, skill sets, and resources of the community and Columbia students.  The ABP provides funding for the project and works closely with the students to help develop the project.



Alternative Break Program


515 Alfred Lerner Hall
2920 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

Call: 212-854-1371

9:00 a.m.–5:00p.m.