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

A Developmental and Capacity-Building Model for Community Partnerships

By Patrick Donohue, director of community-engaged learning at the College of New Jersey’s Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement, and Robert Hackett, vice president, Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation

One community partnership goal of the Bonner program is “to address needs and mobilize assets in building stronger, healthier communities.” Because the Bonner program supports students for intensive, multiyear engagement in service, the faculty/staff at Middlesex County College and, more recently, the College of New Jersey have been able to build upon the traditional partnership model to support long-term, collaborative partnerships that work on multiple levels.

Part of the New Mexico Bonner delegation working at La Plazita in Albuquerque

Part of the New Mexico Bonner delegation working at La Plazita in Albuquerque.

The traditional focus of a campus-based service program has been on service “for others.” We refer to this model as the “community service placement” model. In this model, a student project coordinator connects regular and occasional volunteers to a host of community service opportunities. While this model has been successful in recruiting and placing large numbers of students in the community, rarely have these placement-oriented projects led to a sustained community-building relationship between the campus and the community agencies involved.

Middlesex County College Model

During the mid 1990s, Middlesex County College faculty began to partner with the Bonner Foundation staff to create programs that would provide opportunities for students to serve their communities via cocurricular and curricular avenues. Over time, the college created a model for simultaneously building the capacity of students and community organizations. The College of New Jersey began to adopt this model during the summer of 2006. This model has four levels of team-based activity with the primary community agency partners.

Direct Service: Students are organized into site-based teams and spend one year addressing a particular need (e.g., hunger) by engaging in a variety of direct service (e.g., preparing and serving meals) activities. At this level, the students become more aware of social problems and responses, while the community partner is able to rely on an infusion of “manpower” and energy to deal with the day-to-day crisis situation (e.g., feeding the hungry).

Community-Based Research: Students and professors are organized to complete research projects that respond to the needs of the community agency (e.g., what do the soup kitchen patrons want in terms of additional services?). At this level, the students develop their critical thinking, analytical, and research skills (e.g., by designing, administering, and reviewing the data), while the community partner gains some solid data from which it can create new programs or revise existing ones.

Staff Training: Campus administrators, professors, and occasionally students are often able to deliver workshops or resource materials for agency staff. At this level, the students enhance their communication and presentation skills, while the agency enhances the abilities of its workforce and thereby maximizes its impact and contribution.

Policy Analysis: Students and professors work together to summarize the different approaches to solving different social problems, clarify best practices in a particular field, and provide legislative and funding updates. At this level, the students learn more about the political and funding mechanisms and environments, while the community agency gains tools that can help it have some influence over those “external factors,” such as laws and appropriations, which have a great impact on its operations.

It is important to note that the foundation for each “team” is five students in Bonner scholar or leader positions; they receive a stipend and scholarship for three hundred hours of service during the year. These students work with staff to identify others from campus to fill another three to five “slots,” which are not attached to a stipend or scholarship. In addition, the members of this team may engage in any level of the activities described above and/or participate in organizing other individuals (e.g. professors, administrators, other students) to do the same.

Independently, each of these stages or campus programs also expands the capacity of community partners. However, we can only fully appreciate their potential when they are applied with the understanding of three key principles that inform our partnership model:

  • Comprehensiveness: This principle speaks to the range of programs described above that we make available to our primary community partner agencies.
  • Concentration: This principle brings all four components of our model to bear so that each agency is receiving a steady infusion of energetic volunteers, quality research, staff development workshops, and policy analysis and similar reports or news on an annual basis.
  • Continuity: This principle underscores the fact that it takes time to build all four levels of programming into a partnership and each layer grows from a position of trust as well as from shared resources and expertise.


This approach has several advantages. It addresses project continuity and sustainability by establishing long-range project goals, leadership succession, and peer mentoring strategies that exceed the duration of any one student or faculty member who may leave. This approach also offers feedback and assessment strategies that are responsive to the short- and long-term needs of a community partner. Finally, it promotes an integrative learning and developmental strategy for students and their community partners alike.

Each level of programming, from direct service to policy analysis, opens up more and more challenging opportunities for students to develop personally, socially, civically, and academically. It also cultivates the common ground between community and student development. Everyone then benefits.


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