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University of Michigan School of Information


Alternative Spring Break 2019: Celebrating 20 years of community service

Monday, 02/25/2019

During Spring Break March 4-8, more than three dozen School of Information students will dedicate their free time to service-oriented learning experiences through the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program. Since 1999, this UMSI initiative has paired students with non-profit, cultural, governmental, and educational institutions at various locations around the country, in service to local communities. This year 39 UMSI students will be participating at destinations that range from Detroit to Chicago to Fort Myers, FL, to the California Bay Area, and five will be posting Instagram stories from each location. 

Here in Michigan, first-year Master of Health Informatics students Chloe Canon and Dr. Neha Bhomia will be working at Ponyride, a nonprofit “committed to facilitating the growth of social missions within artists, entrepreneurs, makers, and nonprofits.” Ponyride provides a space for creative ideas and community-driven efforts to germinate and has asked the students to help the organization interpret data and devise compelling ways to present it to the public. 

Students will also be volunteering at numerous organizations in the Chicago area. UMSI students Xiaowen Zhang and Alexis Ashby will be helping the Design Museum of Chicago get a better sense of their website’s ease of use, performance, and search engine optimization to help their web presence align more closely with their mission and values. Hannah Stoloff will be creating guidelines on the production and use of PDFs for the University of Chicago Library. And Ya-Ying Wang and Casey Tin will be analyzing the website of Working Bikes ( to improve stakeholder engagement with the site. 

In Fort Myers, FL, students Erin Neaton and Sabah Pirani will be working with the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and Florida Gulf Coast University. Their goals are to determine whether it is possible to physically locate and characterize transnational populations in Hendry County, FL, and whether that data can be collected in ways that can be analyzed and shared without causing harm. In the Bay Area, Chetan Keshav and Olivia Ouyang will be redesigning the website and creating a volunteer handbook for ArtSeed (, a non-profit that introduces art to young children. Yikai Zou is one of four studentsvolunteering  at Workit Health, an agency that offers online help for opiod addiction. 

These are just some of the many projects UMSI students will be undertaking this year as part of Alternative Spring Break. In continuing a 20-year-long tradition, they form part of a larger picture of community engagement and improvement that is a hallmark of education at UMSI. 

Each weekday throughout ASB, students in the various locations will be posting their experiences on Instagram at #UMSIASB. 

ASB Instagram guest schedule:

Monday, March 4: Olivia Ouyang, ArtSeed, San Francisco

Tuesday, March 5: Chloe Canon, Ponyride, Detroit

Wednesday, March 6: Yikai Zou, Workit Health, Berkeley

Thursday, March 7: Hannah Stoloff, University of Chicago Library, Chicago

Friday, March 8: Erin Neaton, Southwest Florida Community Foundation, Fort Myers


Organizations served during ASB 2019 are


●Prevent Child Abuse America

●Working Bikes

●University of Chicago, Polsky Center

●University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center

●University of Chicago Library

●Experimental Station

●Chinese Mutual Aid Association

●Design Museum of Chicago

●Association of College and Research Libraries

●Media Burn Archive



●GreenLight Fund Detroit


●Community Housing Network

●New Economy Initiative

●Hellenic Museum of Michigan



●Catalyst Impact Capital

●Southwest Florida Community Foundation





- UMSI News Service