Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Student Experience
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

An Intentional and Comprehensive Student Development Model

By Ariane Hoy, senior program officer, Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation

"The way that I work with community and the way that I lead, that is due to my involvement in the Bonner Program." —Sunny Matthews, Guilford College

The Bonner program takes an intentional, comprehensive approach to student development, supporting students as they acquire a set of deep commitments, knowledge, and skills. Each student invests significant time (900–1,700 hours total) in addressing the needs of a given community through partnerships with local and global nonprofit organizations and schools. The Bonner program aims to provide thoughtful developmental opportunities that equip students to work effectively and progress as engaged citizens and leaders.

Pedagogically, this framework is grounded in theoretical approaches such as Kolb’s model of learning (1984) and in a relational pedagogy of engagement such as the one articulated by Carol Geary Schneider and Lee Knefelkamp in “Education for a World Lived in Common” (1997). It is also grounded in time-tested practices of effective community service, service learning, and engagement, in which reflection, meaningful actions, and student voice are key components. The Bonner Program has embedded evaluation as a necessary element of this framework.

The Five E’s

Bonner’s “Five E’s”—expectation, exploration, experience, example, and excellence—describe the developmental framework of the program. These stages are not necessarily tied to particular years; they may be accelerated in some two-year programs and vary depending on a student’s individual pace of learning.

For a student at a four-year institution, the first year focuses on exploration. In this stage, the student is involved in a variety of service projects, exploring his or her interests and identity and discovering issues to which she or he is committed. Service starts as early as Bonner Orientation, and many campuses integrate short-term projects such as rotations through various agencies, weekend service plunges, alternative breaks, and one-time events with the semester-long placement. Often the projects help the student make personal discoveries. The student typically spends the first summer in an intensive internship, generally in the hometown.

The second year centers on experience. In this stage, the student focuses on a specific set of issues or a specific neighborhood while beginning to serve as a regular volunteer. The level of responsibility increases, and the student takes on more sophisticated questions through critical thinking, planning, and reflection. Special activities such as Recommitment and Second-Year Service Exchange allow the student to develop a broader sense of belonging to the local and national program. A second summer of service may deepen the student’s experience, sometimes giving the student an opportunity to work in a new community.

In the third year, the student emerges as an example for peers or other volunteers within the agency or the neighborhood, often managing and leading discrete projects or the site-based team. The student may assume project coordinator responsibilities such as recruiting, placing, guiding, supervising, and leading reflections for other student volunteers. Within the Bonner Program and the campus at large, the student is involved in mentoring and leading other students. During the third summer, the student is encouraged to seek internships located outside of the local community, including international internships.

Excellence is the focus of the fourth year. In this stage, the student continues in a project leader or specialist capacity within the agency or the neighborhood. The student may be involved in evaluating existing programs, designing new initiatives, conducting research, and drafting grant proposals. He or she begins to act as a staff member, consultant, or apprentice. Through senior capstone projects, academic linkages, and career planning efforts, the student has a culminating experience.

Common Characteristics of Emerging Campus Models for Civic Engagement

An intensive approach: Each student participates in ten hours of service a week during the school year, engages in at least one full-time summer service internship, and takes a minimum of five academic courses as part of the curriculum.

A multiyear approach: The process involves a minimum of two years, and preferably four years, of service and coursework.

A developmental and sequential approach: Both the cocurricular service and training activities and the civic engagement certificate–related academic courses have to be organized with a beginning, middle, and end so that the expectations and requirements increase and are built one upon the other.

Coverage of politics and public policy: “Just volunteering” is not enough. Students are expected to integrate their service experience with their exploration of politics and public policy.

A focus on poverty: The emerging models include an in-depth awareness and analysis of economic poverty in this country.

A focus on global issues: Civically engaged students must have exposure to and gain knowledge about global issues such as disease, hunger, and poverty.


Common Commitments

The Bonner Program’s framework for students’ exploration of personal and societal values is represented by six common commitments, which were created over time through a network-wide process involving students, administrators, and faculty:

  • Civic Engagement—participate intentionally as a citizen in the democratic process, actively engaging in public policy and direct service
  • International Perspective—develop the international understanding needed to participate successfully in a global society
  • Social Justice—advocate for fairness, impartiality, and equality while addressing social and environmental issues
  • Community Building—establish and sustain a vibrant community of place, personal relationships, and common interests
  • Diversity—respect and engage the many different dimensions of diversity in our public lives
  • Spiritual Exploration—explore personal beliefs while respecting the spiritual practices of others

The foundation does not dictate how a campus program explores and interprets these commitments. Rather, we encourage each campus Bonner program to provide intentional and inclusive opportunities for students (and others) to learn about, define, and apply their own personal understanding of these larger concepts. Through recurrent and frequent workshops, conversations, and active involvement, students develop a sense of each commitment. In fact, students wrote about their definitions and practice of civic engagement through an open-invitation essay project that has spurred a new volume, Serving, Voting, and Speaking Out: Bonner Students Reflect on Civic Engagement, which is profiled in this issue of Diversity Digest.

To see whether these commitments are indeed borne out, we routinely ask students about how their participation in the program has affected them. We use a student impact survey administered before, during, and at the end of the program (the article in this issue by Cheryl Keen describes this survey in greater detail). Survey results reveal that students in our program show a higher level of commitment than their peers nationally to social justice, and that they exit with significantly higher commitments than when they entered the program.


In addition, each campus Bonner Program is asked to create an intentional path of skill development opportunities that is supported not only through students’ evolving roles with community partners, but also through training, enrichment, and reflection. This training often takes the form of biannual retreats, weekly or bimonthly small-group meetings, courses and seminars, and on-campus special training. Skills we particularly aim to cultivate fall into the three categories listed in the chart above.

To support this skill development, the foundation has developed an extensive civic engagement curriculum, which can be found at www.bonner.org.


The Bonner Program also encourages students to make academic connections and linkages with their community-based experiences. Structurally, this is supported through the civic engagement minor or
academic certificate initiative, which the foundation is working with a cluster of campuses to develop through a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. These new minors focus on a number of common elements:

  • Public policy, including the structure and roles of government, ways to be involved in shaping public policy, and the implications of governmental
  • Poverty, including the roots and conditions of poverty, its implications, and possible solutions
  • International perspectives on issues that the student is addressing, such as the distribution of wealth, health care, and environmental concerns
  • Issue-based knowledge connected to direct service areas, such as homelessness, hunger, or the environment
  • Place-based knowledge connected to the place where the student is serving, such as knowledge of local context, history, economics, and politics
  • Diversity, including understanding and awareness of power, class, race, gender and other factors in social identity

The articles included in this issue of Diversity Digest expand upon and provide concrete examples of the models described above. Each perspective, whether it is a student’s, a faculty member’s, or a community’s, demonstrates the power of linking student learning with service and community engagement. For more information on the Bonner Program and its pedagogical and service frameworks, contact Ariane Hoy at ahoy@bonner.org.

 Personal Skills                       Leadership Skills                 Professional Skills

Active listening
Decision making
Time management
Goal setting

Conflict resolution
Public speaking
Running a meeting
Working with diverse groups

Event planning
Grant writing
Marketing/public relations
Public education/advocacy
Volunteer management



Kolb, D. A. 1984. Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Schneider, C. G., and L. Knefelkamp. 1997. Education for a world lived in common. In Education and democracy: Re-imagining liberal learning in America, 327–44. New York: The College Board.


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