One Million Degrees

One Million Degrees and United Airlines Offer Low-Income Community College Students an Alternative Spring Break

In an effort to increase civic engagement, 12 Chicago community college students volunteer and learn about social justice issues in San Francisco


Chicago, IL -- (SBWIRE) -- 04/10/2015 -- One Million Degrees (OMD)—a Chicago nonprofit organization that empowers low-income, highly motivated community college students to succeed in school, in work and in life—and United Airlines are working together to inspire civic engagement among local community college students through a unique spring break project. United Airlines is providing financial support for an Alternative Spring Break (ASB), in which 12 OMD Scholars and two staff are traveling to San Francisco March 28-April 4. Throughout the week, scholars will volunteer with a variety of nonprofits and learn about the social and environmental issues those organizations are addressing across the Bay area.

"We are grateful for United Airlines' investment in One Million Degrees and our scholars by sponsoring this year's Alternative Spring Break trip," said Paige Ponder, CEO of One Million Degrees. "This experience will not only build a tremendous sense of community among our scholars, but will also give them a hands-on understanding of critical social and environmental issues. OMD Scholars will be leaders in their careers and communities, and experiences like ASB will make them more effective change agents. United is helping us inform, prepare and inspire them."

OMD Scholars will learn about the issues being addressed by San Francisco-area community organizations and assist with a variety of projects at homeless shelters, food banks, local parks and community urban farms. OMD is working with Community Collaborations International (CCI) to coordinate the volunteer projects. CCI organizes teams of volunteers from universities and colleges all over the country and puts them to work where they are needed most.

"United Airlines proudly supports organizations in our communities that provide opportunities for youth, and work to improve lives through health and education," said United's Managing Director of Diversity and Inclusion Greg Jones. "Spring break is always a busy time for us, and we're happy for the opportunity to help these scholars create a memorable and educational experience like this."

Traditionally, community college students face numerous challenges that the typical four-year college student does not, such as caring for children and working two or more jobs. OMD strives to help address those challenges by providing a variety of holistic supports—financial assistance, mentoring, coaching, academic interventions and professional development—to hundreds of community college students across 11 Chicago-area community colleges each year. OMD is one of the only organizations in the country working directly with low-income community college students, and the model has achieved compelling results: OMD Scholars graduate from college at over three times the national average. Upon completion, scholars transfer to four-year colleges and universities to earn their bachelor's degrees and enter the workforce in high-demand fields, such as health care, IT and engineering. OMD Scholars build better futures for themselves, their families and their communities, while helping to strengthen the economy.

OMD is one of the only organizations offering community college students Alternative Spring Break opportunities, which have been shown to raise awareness among students about the importance of civic engagement. These trips have become popular at traditional four-year colleges and universities, but are extremely rare among community college students due in part to the many personal challenges and responsibilities students juggle outside of the classroom. But there is a real need for community college students to become engaged in social issues.

Research conducted by America's Democracy Colleges found that community college students are traditionally less likely to be civically engaged than four-year college students, but suggests that community colleges have potential to become hubs of civic engagement. In fact, the Rappaport Family Foundation has found that because community college students have needs and concerns very different than those of typical college students, coupled with the fact that they go to school where they live and often stay in those communities after graduation, they are primed for civic engagement. Specifically, they are likely to become involved in community-based activism, taking on the issues affecting their families, peers and neighborhoods. OMD aims to encourage civic engagement through this trip as well as through its monthly scholar development workshops and service opportunities offered throughout the year.

Last year, OMD offered its first Alternative Spring Break trip for Scholars, in which 12 students traveled to Cleveland and spent the week working with food banks and early childhood and senior centers.

"The first Alternative Spring Break trip with OMD was a meaningful experience. The trip gave me an opportunity to help and learn from others. I'm grateful for the opportunity to go on another ASB trip this year and have been looking forward to it," said Edgar Mejia, a 20-year-old Albany Park resident who is pursuing an associate degree in mechanical engineering at Harry Truman College.

Hyde Park resident Stephanie Kuwornu (20) is pursuing an associate degree in economics and will graduate from Harold Washington College in June. She is looking forward to the Alternative Spring Break program and the opportunity to give back to others. "Instead of spending my spring break just hanging out and going to the movies with my friends, I will be spending time exploring a different place and contributing to important social issues through community service."

To learn more about the Alternative Spring Break trip and hear from students about their experiences, follow OMD's hashtag #OMDASB2015 on Twitter at @1MillionDegrees and Facebook at or visit

About One Million Degrees
One Million Degrees empowers low-income, highly motivated community college students to succeed in school, in work and in life. From tutors and coaches, to professional development and financial aid, One Million Degrees provides our scholars with supports that are critical to their success in the classroom and beyond.

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