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From Volunteering to Mountaineering Whether they were doing service work in Birmingham, touring firms in NYC, or climbing an ice-encrusted mountain in New Hampshire, Washington and Lee students made the most of Washington Break.

“I will cherish the memories we made and the virtue of the work we did for the rest of my life.”

— Walker Brand ’18, on an Engineering Community Development trip to Belize

ice_climb2-800x533 From Volunteering to MountaineeringBethany Reitsma ’20 scales an icy cliff at Mount Washington in New Hampshire during an adventurous Washington Break.

Some W&L students spent Washington Break in helmets and hiking boots while others donned power suits and well-shined shoes. No matter what they wore, they made the most of their vacations from classes and homework. This year, students took off for service trips, learning tours and outdoor adventures, forming new bonds with fellow Generals and new relationships with the world outside of Lexington.

Here’s a round-up of seven different Washington Break trips, along with some photos snapped by students and university photographer Kevin Remington.

Nabors Service League

birmingham-800x533 From Volunteering to MountaineeringA volunteer group from W&L’s Nabors Service League poses at the home of an alumna who served up a traditional Southern BBQ dinner.

The Nabors Service League, a student-run community service organization, took 15 students to Birmingham, Alabama. There, they worked with Impact Alabama, a non-profit dedicated to connecting volunteers with community organizations that need help to bring about change, and A+ College Ready, which helps to prepare promising high school students for college. Throughout the trip, the Lexington group stayed with Washington and Lee alumni or parents of current students.

For Impact Alabama, the W&L students performed free eye screenings for children, ultimately visiting 16 day cares and screening 900 children. If a screen turned up a potential vision problem, that family was connected with an organization that provides access to medical care. For A+ College Ready, 13 students from W&L did about 78 hours of administrative work. They also went into 24 local classrooms and taught about 480 4th– and 5th-grade students how to read and write in binary as part of the non-profit’s new computer science initiative.

“When we weren’t working, we spent a lot of time with our host families,” said Lorena Hernandez Barcena ’19. “We had a different dinner every night with a different alumni host. Some of them took us out to dinner at a restaurant, and some of them invited us over to their home and cooked for us. The Nabors (of Nabors Service League) also took us out to an escape room, which was incredibly fun! We split into two groups and only one group (mine) made it out in time. The other group was very close to finishing, though. We also had the opportunity to visit the Civil Rights Institute, which is incredibly thorough and impactful. Finally, we met with Stephen Black, the founder of Impact Alabama, and we had a very interesting conversation with him.”

Bonner Program

bonner-800x533 From Volunteering to MountaineeringBonner Program students pose for a group shot in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they spent Washington Break volunteering. Not pictured: Peyton Powers

The Bonner Program, a leadership development program, sent nine first-year students to Charlotte, North Carolina, where they worked with agencies that address homelessness. The group worked with several community organizations during the stay in Charlotte, including Lifespan Enrichment Center, a facility for developmentally disabled adults that offers programs such as arts and crafts, horticulture and music. They also spent an afternoon playing board games and making cookies and lemonade with residents of McReesh Place, an affordable housing center.

Working with disabled adults “was a really important experience for everyone because it is a population that not everyone gets a chance to work with and is not comfortable with,” said Peyton Powers ’18. “It helped develop a deeper sense of what it is like to work with that community.” In fact, the group did not work with children at all during this year’s trip, which is different from years past. “It is kind of rare, but it was also cool because if anything, it showed all the opportunities that are available to work with the adult population. It is important to continue to follow up with people throughout their life and work with adult people.”


A group of 14 students interested in the fields of advertising, marketing and communications traveled to New York to experience the fast-paced world of the industries. During the AdMarComm trip, they visited 16 different advertising, marketing, communications and public relations agencies, including the Facebook headquarters in NY. Most of the locations included visits with alumni working in the field. The group stayed on-the-go each day from early in the morning until late evening.

“Visiting Jeff Hamill at Hearst provided our group with a great opportunity to learn about how media companies like Hearst have adapted to our changing media landscape,” said Adit Ahmed ’19. “Mr. Hamill established Hearst as a company that is on the frontier of adapting to the modern age, with its combination of native advertising and integrated media content that stretches across platforms. Not only was the visit informative, but being able to hear from Hamill from the top of Hearst Tower was one of the coolest experiences I could’ve gotten on the trip … In addition, meeting with alums at firms like Distillery, McCann and Grey provided me with a strong understanding of the fiscal, written and artistic interests that drive W&L alums to the advertising space. It was great to see the ways that W&L students excel in this realm of media, whether it is on the programmatic or creative side of things.”

Investment Trip

Twenty-six students traveled to New York for a whirlwind four-day tour of investment-related firms. Between Tuesday and Friday, the Washington and Lee group visited 18 different firms and met with 76 alumni. The firms represented the following industries: investment banking, real estate, accounting, hedge funds, sales and trading, corporate finance and consulting. Students were impressed by the number of different career paths presented to them during the trip, as well as by how many W&L alumni can be found in these industries.

“This was an extremely engaging and interesting experience that crammed a lot of knowledge about a complex industry into just a couple of days,” said Miller Townes ’19. “If you are considering investment banking at all, I would recommend attending this trip as it gives you a very hands-on and thorough explanation of what exactly iBanking is and all that it entails. It also offers exposure to consulting and accounting firms. My favorite part of the trip was hearing all of the alumni speak about their path from Washington and Lee to their respective companies. They speak so highly of how their experience at Washington and Lee prepared them for their current jobs and allows them to create opportunities for current W&L students.”

Florida Everglades

The Outing Club sponsors this annual adventure to the Florida Everglades. Sixteen students spent a week exploring the marshes and mangroves of these huge natural wetlands. Participants set up base camp on a main island, then took daily guided sea kayaking trips to other areas of the national park. Although the trip is intended mostly for relaxation and adventure, participants always get to learn a bit about interesting plant and animal life.

“I wanted to do something cool outside and I didn’t really feel like going home,” said Haley Stern ’20. “I just felt like I needed a break from school. We just chilled out and experienced the incredible biodiversity there. I learned a lot about the wildlife and the plant life. We saw dolphins, sea turtles, alligators, and a variety of fish. It wasn’t like any formal lesson but I felt like I did learn a lot about a new natural area and interacting with people.”

Engineering in Belize

Eight students with W&L’s Engineering Community Development club traveled to Belmopan, Belize to build a bio-sand water filter for a local high school. The students spent a week working with a local organization called Belize BaseCamp, which matches missionaries and volunteers with jobs. The W&L group worked on the site of a former church that is being turned into a high school. They built a bio-sand filter, which uses natural materials and beneficial bacteria to mimic how the earth itself filters water when it rains. This is the second such filter that W&L students have built in Belize; W&L groups have also built bio-sand filters in Guatemala.

“The trip to Belize was incredible for two major reasons,” said Walker Brand ’18. “One, our work down there has the potential to positively affect the lives of an entire village for years to come, and two, the group of students that went on the trip were a blast to hang out and collaborate with. I will cherish the memories we made and the virtue of the work we did for the rest of my life.”

Climbing Mount Washington

Seven students left the unseasonably warm temperatures of Lexington and headed north to climb Mount Washington in New Hampshire. They spent their break stretching their legs and testing their mettle on the highest peak in the Northeastern United States. The adventure included lots of hiking in the snow and ice, as well as scaling a 140-foot ice-covered cliff. For this trip, the students hired a guide and rented equipment. Although Mount Washington is notorious for having extreme weather conditions that shift dramatically and quickly, the W&L group lucked out on this trip. They had record-high temperatures on the day they summited, and the worst setback they encountered was a blister.

“As an outdoorsman in general, it’s really cool to share my love of the outdoors with other people,” said Matthew Rickert ’18. “There were some struggles to get people to the top, but once we got to the top everyone was thrilled to be there, the energy was back and everybody had a sense of accomplishment.”