Following the whirlwind of wrapping up fall midterms, Cobbers have several ways to immerse themselves in unique learning opportunities during fall Breakaway.

The campus made the switch to the new weeklong fall Breakaway format in 2018 to create more time and opportunity for students to press pause on classes and routines to deep dive into a chosen integrative learning experience.

Breakaway options range from unique on-campus classes, to immersive PEAK opportunities, to global adventures. In fall 2019, a few of the Breakaway opportunities available to students included Habitat for Humanity, Border Immersion, Wing, Boot & Rail exploration in Scotland, Physics National Laboratories, a multicultural birth center, and a student-planned and led High Impact Leadership Trip (HILT).

Expanding Their Worldview

This fall, assistant professor of nursing Amanda Tracy arranged for a class of senior nursing students to visit the Holy Family Birth Center in Weslaco, Texas, to get firsthand experience caring for mothers and infants in an environment that focuses on midwifery.

The birth center is located less than 10 miles from the Mexico border, allowing students to immerse themselves in nursing care for culturally diverse clients.

Nursing major Greta Streich ’20 was one of the participants in the birth center Breakaway.

“We had a different assignment each day,” she said. “One day we were in the clinic, so we’d give the moms testing and immunizations. Some were post-birth appointments. Another student and I even went on a home visit to check in on a mother and baby.”

Visiting the Holy Family Birth Center was an opportunity for the nursing students to see how obstetrical care was different from typical care in the Red River Valley.

“We have midwives in Fargo-Moorhead, but women still give birth in the hospital setting,” Streich said. “Holy Family has its own birth center.”

The unique opportunity to see a natural birthing center combined with the small group size of five nursing students was the perfect combination for Streich’s Breakaway experience.

“We see each other every day, but it was fun to hang out with everyone outside of school,” she said. “Birthing and health practices are so different from state to state, and it was cool to be able to see and experience that during my break.”

Breaking Barriers

Although some Breakaways are class-specific, most opportunities, such as the Border Immersion trip with Dr. Lisa Twomey, assistant professor of Spanish and Hispanic studies, set up as part of a Justice Journey, are open to any Concordia student.

“Immigration is a passion of mine,” Twomey said. “I teach an Inquiry Seminar on immigrant and refugee children and include topics of immigration in several of my Spanish classes. The fall Breakaway trip was a way to take our learning beyond the classroom walls and go to a crucial place in the immigration crisis: the U.S.-Mexico border.”

Concordia’s Office of Campus Ministry had previously established a relationship on a Justice Journey with the Cristo Rey Lutheran Church of El Paso, which runs a Border Immersion program. Twomey was the advisor for the fall 2019 Justice Journey and 12 students joined her.

One of those Cobbers, Lauren Nelson ’22, says the Breakaway experience was one she will never forget.

“It was rewarding, but it was a very difficult experience to see the reality of what people are living through and hearing the stories of why people are crossing the border illegally,” she said. 

The trip was an emotional Breakaway experience and one pivotal moment stands out to Nelson.

“We had the opportunity to go to Abrazos No Muros or Hugs Not Walls,” she said. “People on either side of the wall can sign up to meet their families on a riverbank in the Rio Grande to hug for three minutes. We were able to go down where the photographers were. To see a dad on the Mexican side reuniting with his young daughter on the American side, that was powerful. Everyone at the border had a different variation of the same story. They just wanted to help their families. The only difference is where we were born.”

Nelson says the experience was “life-changing” and sometimes difficult to share with people who did not go on the trip.

“Our Breakaway group got together to talk about it,” she said, “but I learned that you need to use your voice to lift up others. We all come from different types of privileges and we need to recognize our power and use that to lift others up.”

Student-Led Breakaways

Not only do students take part in the Breakaways that are built into specific courses or planned by staff and faculty, but they can facilitate their own Breakaways called High Impact Leadership Trips. Students plan the entire process, including requesting funding, finding a trip advisor, recruiting trip participants, coordinating food, housing and transportation, and organizing the itinerary.

Jackie Maahs, the sustainability coordinator for Concordia, helped three students organize the 2019 fall HILT Breakaway, called Mindfulness in the Wilderness. The students road-tripped from Wyoming to Colorado and explored three national parks. Samantha Svendsen ’21 was one of the students who planned the trip.

“We wanted to make people more aware of what the wilderness is,” Svendsen said, “how you can be outside and respect the space and the people that were once there. There’s not just one way to be mindful in the wilderness or mindful in general. It was interesting to see everyone’s creativity when it came to being mindful in nature.”

When the group stopped at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Svendsen led the other students in a meditation, then everyone split up to explore and connect with nature in their own way.

“There were some people in our group who had never been outside of Minnesota,” she said. “Seeing the national parks for the first time, it was like seeing the joy of a child experiencing things but as an adult. It was really eye-opening for me that even a 20-year-old can have these feelings.”

Although the trip was not associated with a class, music major and HILT student organizer Noah Johnson ’20 was able to draw parallels between the trip and his studies.

“I’m in a class called Music in Nature and we’re discussing the interdisciplinary relationships between how music influences nature and vice versa,” he said. “If I wasn’t a music major, I’d be an environmental studies major. Even though I can’t fit in a minor or a lot of classes that deal with that, I still get opportunities like this.”

For many students, Breakaway was the perfect opportunity to recenter themselves before tackling the rest of the semester. 

“One of my favorite quotes that I try to remember in the wilderness is: ‘Quiet mind, tired feet,’” Svendsen said. “It’s OK to not carry all your other burdens. Breakaways are affiliated with Concordia, but you can now see Concordia as a stepping stone for so many other things.”

Forging Friendships

Students from all the Breakaways said what they enjoyed most was getting to know the people on their trip in a different way.

“The connection you form with people – I do not have the words,” Svendsen said. “You’re all in this little space for a week, and it’s almost like ‘how were you not in my life before?’ The places you see, the things you do, are so separate from Concordia. My favorite memories at Concordia have been my Breakaway trips. You never know the connections that form out of that, where it could lead.”

Overwhelmingly, the students who participated in a fall Breakaway said their experience impacts how they see and engage with the world around them and recommend that other Cobbers take advantage of the Breakaway opportunities.

“Go and learn,” Nelson said. “Walk alongside people.”


Learn More About Breakaway


Originally published in the 2020 Concordia Magazine