The Aegis
Harford County

Harford Community College students spend alternative winter break in Florida Keys

Ten Harford Community College students and two college employees spent part of their winter break in service learning activities Jan. 4 through 10 in the Florida Keys.

Kenneth Bracken (engineering), Olivia McCully (elementary education), Christina Johnson (sociology), Hannah Farmer (accounting), Weiping Qin (business administration), Patrick Voelker (philosophy), Chidimma Michaels (nursing), Maheer Multani (business), Maggie Walden (elementary education), and Megan Chenworth (public health) joined chaperones Caitlin White, HCC Student Leadership and Orientation Specialist, and Tami Imbierowicz, Professor & Department Coordinator for the Life Sciences Department, STEM Division.


Students spent time volunteering, learning about the area, and enjoying the Keys.

During their stay, the HCC team provided valuable assistance to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, a part of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Florida Fish and Wildlife. The team removed almost 1,100 pounds of trash during their cleanup activities.


The students spent Sunday exploring the area and visited Boca Chica Beach, a popular beach with locals, and Higgs Beach in Key West where they saw the African Burial Ground, a National Register of Historic Places site that honors victims of the last slave ships. They also watched the sunset from Mallory Square and enjoyed dinner at a local restaurant, Blue Heaven. They stayed at the Boy Scouts of America Brinton Environmental Center on Summerland Key and visited the coral restoration nursery located there.

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On Monday, the group learned about the need to protect and conserve the ecosystem of the Keys at the Florida Keys Eco Discovery Center, which is run by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Training was led by Nicole Uibel, volunteer coordinator for the Education and Outreach Team.

The following day, the team performed marine debris cleanup via kayak in the Riviera Canal in Key West. It was many of the students’ first experience kayaking.

On Wednesday morning, they cleaned up the shoreline at Boca Chica Beach, a remote, quiet and beautiful stretch of seashore on Boca Chica Key. The students were given the afternoon to explore Fort Zachary State Park in Key West. There, many of them took the opportunity to enjoy the warm water and snorkel.

The next day, the team partnered with Florida Fish and Wildlife on Sugarloaf Key to clean up an area of the shoreline not open to the public that usually contains a large amount of trash. Students were also given the opportunity to kayak and explore the mangrove forests. In addition, they visited Blue Hole on Big Pine Key, 30 miles north of Key West, which is the only source of fresh water in the Keys and home to a few alligators.

“This Alternative Winter Break trip was the seventh Alternative Break I have chaperoned with Harford Community College," White said. “I am constantly impressed by the work ethic, dedication and genuine concern for bettering the world that our students consistently demonstrate. When we asked the students what they would change about this trip, many of them asked for the opportunity to add even more service hours into the already long, tiring days we were working.

“What I love about Harford’s Alternative Break program is that it gives our students the chance to get out of their comfort zones — out of Harford County and traveling with a group of strangers who soon become friends — while providing an important service to the communities we work in. These trips are possible because of great partnerships with service organizations that make sure we are doing exactly the kind of service that the community needs at that time.”

The mission of the Alternative Break program at Harford Community College is to provide direct service opportunities for students to experience diverse perspectives, learn about social issues, and grow as lifelong active citizens.