Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Campus-Community Involvement
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 10,
Number 1

Download our print issue (PDF)
Campus-Community Involvement
Student Leadership: Making a Difference in the World
Access to Education, Opportunity to Serve
Berea College: Learning, Labor, and Service
A Developmental and Capacity-Building Model for Community Partnerships
The Power of a Sustained Relationship between Community Partners and Colleges and Universities
Faculty Involvement
Prequel to Civic Engagement: An African American Studies Research Seminar
Service Learning and Policy Change
Facilitating Student Growth as Citizens: A Developmental Model for Community-Engaged Learning
Student Experience
An Intentional and Comprehensive Student Development Model
Bonner: More Than a Model, a Lived Experience
Relationships First
Commitment to a Cause
Institutional Leadership
Preparing to Serve
Checklist from the President’s Chair
Curricular Transformation
LifeWorks and the Commons: A Model for General Education
The Case for Studying Poverty
Engaging with Difference Matters: Longitudinal Outcomes of the Cocurricular Bonner Scholars Program
Resources for Civic Engagement
Serving, Voting, and Speaking Out: Bonner Students Reflect on Civic Engagement

Access to Education, Opportunity to Serve

By Wayne Meisel, president, Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation

“Being a Bonner scholar is not merely a duty but a fulfillment,” proclaimed Stormy Gillespie, a member of the first class of bonner scholars, in front of a small group of distinguished educators from a diverse group of schools. It was from that gathering at the boone tavern in Berea, Kentucky, that the Bonner scholars program was born.

Bonner Foundation President Wayne Meisel gathers with Bonner leaders from California State University–Los Angeles.

Bonner Foundation President Wayne Meisel gathers with Bonner leaders from California State University–Los Angeles.

The Bonner Foundation, over the course of its history, has provided in excess of $200 million to champion the goals and efforts of the Bonner Program and campuses that support community engagement. The Bonner Scholars Program is a multiyear service-based scholarship designed to identify students with significant financial needs and then encourage them to attend college and provide support for them. The Bonner Leader Program, an expansion of the Scholars Program, uses federal work–study funds, AmeriCorps Education Awards, and institutional support to create scholarship stipends for students involved in community service.

While in school, Bonner scholars engage in intense and transformative service activities. Rather than have a work component as part of their financial aid package, Bonner scholars fulfill a service expectation and receive financial support to help cover the cost of their education. Currently, more than seventy-five colleges and universities participate in the Bonner Scholars and Bonner Leader programs. These schools range from large public institutions like the University of New Mexico to small liberal arts colleges like Spelman College.

First and foremost, the Bonner Scholars Program is about access. Almost all students in the program have demonstrated considerable financial need. The program is designed to support students who want to make a significant commitment to community service and connect service activity to their academic experience. Rather than have the service activity oriented toward an individual student, the Bonner Program puts the community back into community service as students move together in their service journey.

The program is based upon a four-year student developmental model that provides a series of expectations, challenges, supports, and outcomes that guide students’ leadership throughout their time in college. These activities are organized around six focus areas, which all students, including those who are not Bonner scholars, can integrate into their engagement. These areas, described as our “common commitments,” are social justice, civic engagement, spiritual exploration, community building, diversity, and international perspective.

Through a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, the foundation has worked with two dozen campuses to develop an academic journey that transcends a course-by-course service-learning experience. This multiyear interdisciplinary model parallels and integrates with Bonner’s cocurricular student development model. By taking courses that address the complexities of politics, poverty, and global issues, students connect their service with a focused understanding and practice of civic engagement, including political participation and public policy. These models are described more fully in Ariane Hoy’s article in this issue.

The second goal of the Bonner Scholars Program is building a campus culture of service. In defining the success and progress of the relationship between the foundation and the campus, the focus is not on the individual students that par-ticipate in the program. Instead, a school is evaluated on the culture of service and the level of infrastructure that supports the culture of service. Rather than promote a service culture that focuses narrowly on the Bonner scholars, our hope is that campuses create a climate with the motto “Everybody, Everyday.”

Finally, schools in the Bonner Program are expected to create community service centers that lead and manage the activities on campus. These centers provide leadership opportunities for students by allowing them to serve in key roles at community agencies. The center staff members work to connect the students’ community roles with other levels of student organizing and involvement. The centers also encourage faculty to develop service-learning courses through such vehicles as mini-grants, workshops, and conferences, and through support from the Bonner network.

The foundation also works to identify financial and other resources to which a community might not otherwise have access. Within the Bonner Program is a community fund that generates $100 for every student in the program. Thus, if there are one hundred Bonner scholars at a particular institution, that community fund has access to $10,000 annually.

Beyond this, the foundation offers grants of up to $10,000 a year to local agencies that engage campus resources in addressing local poverty challenges, especially around hunger. We work with schools to identify and obtain resources they might not know about or be eligible for on their own. In addition, campuses in the Bonner Program receive encouragement and support to partner with community agencies to secure significant funding.

The Bonner Program has its origins in liberal arts colleges. We were inspired and compelled by campuses like Berea College in Kentucky for its commitment to low-income students, Concord University in West Virginia for its involvement in the Southeastern Appalachian region, Oberlin College in Ohio for its longstanding commitment to social justice, and Morehouse College in Atlanta for its tradition of educating leaders. All of the campuses that were involved from the start were schools that demonstrated a desire and ability to be an academic, cultural, and economic presence in their communities. Since its founding, the Bonner Program has reached out to dozens of colleges and universities that are representative of the diversity in higher education.

At the tenth anniversary of the Bonner Program in 2000, I challenged participants to work for the creation of fifty thousand high-quality service-based scholarships throughout the country by 2010. Clearly not all of these would be connected to the Bonner Scholars Program, but hopefully, the experience of the Bonner Foundation would inspire others to develop, implement, and sustain similar types of programs. Our intent is to expand a movement, not build an empire. In support of this goal, we have made all of our resources and tools freely available on our Web site and our trainings and conversations open to all those interested in our work.

Recently I was asked to give a talk to the Council of Europe. The topic was “Fostering Democratic Values in Higher Education.” At first I was taken aback by the assignment, questioning what I knew about the subject. What I began to understand is that all the different ways we have come to identify and describe our work—volunteering, service, service learning, community leadership, and civic engagement—are the elements of a healthy democracy. In fact, democracy is the stronger word because it connects the many forms and phases of our work both to the founding vision of America and to its future. The Bonner Program and the campus-wide community service centers that come out of this work offer us the hope of fulfilling democracy’s promise.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
Copyright 1996 - 2014
Association of American Colleges & Universities | 1818 R Street NW, Washington, DC, 20009