Qatar students head west for break

Last week, eight students from Carnegie Mellon’s Qatar campus took advantage of the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program, volunteering their time and skills to help the residents of Carnegie, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh.

This was the third year for the program, which was organized by Renee Camerlengo, director of special projects for the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, along with community advisor Caryl Tuma and David Stanfield, director of Student Activities, both of the Qatar campus.

This was the second year that the program was focused on community service.

The students’ time and effort were spent contributing to the Community Revitalization Plan, an arrangement between Carnegie Mellon and the borough of Carnegie to repair damages caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

On their first day of work, the students helped create a computer lab that will become part of a multipurpose community center in Carnegie. The lab will act as a hub for members of the community to gain computer skills and learn to use computers to improve their overall working capabilities.

Initially, the lab had a modest budget of $5000. However, after some of the Carnegie inhabitants heard the students’ ideas for the lab, they donated an additional $5000 to bring the students’ business plan for the lab to fruition.

The following day, the students were put to work repairing damages to the basement of Sunset Pizza, a Turkish family-owned business in Carnegie.

“[Sadi Bircan’s] business opened slightly before the hurricane and was one of the local businesses that were seriously impacted. The students waterproofed the basements to help protect against similar damage of flooding in the future. In this case, the students really saw the people who were benefiting from their work,” Camerlengo said.

The ASB program aims for students to walk away with a greater appreciation of community service.

“It felt completely different than anything we’ve done or experienced before,” said Fatima Al-Rumaihi, a sophomore in business administration. “We all felt that we had an impact on Mr. Bircan’s life. After tearfully describing the flooding of his business, we all worked even harder than we’d been previously, because we wanted to help as much as we could.”

Camerlengo said that the Office of Student Affairs makes subtle changes to the program each year in hope of continuing to improve the experience for the students that attend.

“This year, we tried to contextualize the objectives more by talking about what is needed to make a community thrive, and we looked at how the students’ contribution can be restorative, but also forward-thinking,” Camerlengo said.

While their itinerary included on-campus activities such as Greek Sing and Campus SuperStar, the visiting students felt they lacked interaction with the student community on the Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh campus.

“I wish we could have spent more time with the students,” said Hala Abbas, a junior in business administration.

“We wanted to know more about life on the Pittsburgh campus,” said Maha Al-Khulaifi, a sophomore in business administration.

Camerlengo agreed that one of the hardest challenges during cross-campus initiatives such as ASB is meeting the variety of individual expectations that students have.

“I would love to have had the students do some reading ahead of time about the type of work they will be doing in addition to gaining information about the Pittsburgh campus before they actually arrived,” she said.

When students from the Pittsburgh campus visited Qatar in 2005 and 2006, their trips focused on enhancing student connections between the two campuses, not community service.

“What I would also like to discuss are the opportunities to volunteer in Qatar, when students visit the Qatar campus from Pittsburgh in the future,” Camerlengo said.