Students Get DiRTy to Help Others

Susquehanna has sent groups of students on service learning trips to areas devastated by hurricanes, flooding and more.

Natural disasters are an ever-present threat, at home and abroad. For years, Susquehanna has sent groups of students on service learning trips to areas devastated by hurricanes, flooding and more. Joining the effort this spring was the Disaster Response Team (DiRT), a student organization that traveled to Atlanta to aid in reconstruction following the 2009 flooding.

“Going on the spring break trip was a large step for them,” says adviser Eric Lassahn, director of residence life and volunteer programs. Formed three years ago, DiRT spent its first two years organizing and gaining university recognition.

The outreach trip to Atlanta was the first of its kind for the group, and it exemplifies one of DiRT’s ultimate goals to mobilize and respond to local disasters, Lassahn says.

DiRT treasurer Chelsey Bennett ’11 says the group will spend the remainder of the year doing training sessions in rescue skills such as CPR and first aid, and participating in various service opportunities on the weekends. The club was also one of several Susquehanna groups to mobilize to help with relief efforts after Haiti’s earthquake in January.

M. Andy Nagy ’08, group adviser and coordinator of civic engagement, says DiRT members chose Atlanta as their first service learning destination because it was relatively close, and therefore reasonably priced for travel, and would give them experience working in an area affected by large-scale disaster.

Students were assigned to rebuild homes with community organizations. “You knew you were going to hurt from this kind of work by the end of the day,” Nagy says.

Lassahn, Nagy and several students involved in DiRT have experience with other disaster relief trips. Less than six months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, Susquehanna’s first Hurricane Relief Team (HRT) departed for the area. Since then, 13 teams have gone to New Orleans to help rebuild, and they show no sign of slowing down.

“There will always be work to do there,” Lassahn says.

Susquehanna also offers service-learning trips to Central America with The Rev. Mark Wm. Radecke, university chaplain, and to the Philippines with Associate Professor of Religion Jeffrey Mann.


Contributing writers to the People & Places section are Heather Cobun ’10, a communications and political science major from Eldersburg, Md.; Adam Hinshaw, a freelance writer from Lewisburg, Pa.; and Julie Nicolov, a freelance writer from Trevorton, Pa.

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