Giving More Hawks a Chance at APEX

by Emmalee Eckstein


For over 25 years, SJU’s Appalachian Experience (APEX) spring break immersion program has been connecting thousands of Hawks to different sites in the Appalachian region. The experience has become a cherished one for many students because of the transformational impact of their service and cultural immersion.  A new crowdfunding initiative now aims to make the experience available to more students by offsetting fees.

In many cases, APEX is the first contact that a student has with the themes of social justice, solidarity and spiritual reflection,” explains Sister Emma Catherine Kirwin-Avila, the new program director for APEX. “In order to make the program feasible for all students seeking out a meaningful spring break experience, we want to keep the individual cost down and offer scholarships to those for whom the fees are out of reach.”

Each year, the uniquely popular spring break trip fills up within hours of opening registration. In recent years, hundreds of students have participated and report the experience is a pivotal one throughout their time at SJU. A recent documentary about the program recently received a winner’s laurel at the Queen City Film Festival, a series in Maryland that featured educational panels and films about the Appalachian region.

"I love APEX because of the small, meaningful moments that take place throughout the week,” reflects Jeremy Campbell ’21. “Just simple tasks like figuring out how to put shingles on a roof in Hazard, Kentucky or shoveling driveways for the community of Fries, Virginia during a snowstorm really have value. I can't wait for my third APEX trip this spring."

Kirwin-Aliva hopes to expand the program in the coming years and the crowdfunding initiative is just one way of increasing access for more students. She is confident that alumni who have been through the transformative experience will be compelled to support the program and future students.

“Exploring the interrelatedness of justice, service, solidarity, reflection and faith—these are all byproducts of APEX and foundational to an SJU education,” says Sr. Kirwin-Avila. “APEX empowers students to be thoughtful, critical and compassionate and to grow in their sense of concern for the issues that affect those who are on the economic and social margins and in their capacity to find God in all things.”

SJU Crowdfunding will run until Dec. 3, or #GivingTuesday. To learn more about SJU Crowdfunding’s APEX campaign, visit