An Intentional and Comprehensive Student
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
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
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.
Characteristics of Emerging Campus Models for Civic
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.
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,
- 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
- 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
- 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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Running a meeting
Working with diverse groups
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.