Bonner: More Than a Model, a Lived
By Gretchen Mielke, Dickinson College graduate
and former Bonner leader, current Fulbright English
teaching assistantship fellow
Bonner Leader Gretchen Mielke
addressing the Bonner Congress meeting held at
College graduation inevitably causes one to reflect
on the past four years. How far have I come? What did
I learn? What would have happened if I had not met that
person or participated in a certain activity? For me,
Dickinson College’s Bonner leader program is inseparable
from my college experience. It was not just an extracurricular
activity that I did in my spare time. I had plenty of
those: golf, recreational floor hockey, spinning, and
flag football. The Bonner leader program was my partner
in crime throughout my four years: academically, professionally,
Bonner and I met in late October of my freshman year
when John Miyahara, director of the Office of Religious
Life and Community Services, handed me a stack of papers.
He told me, “This is a really great program that
I would like you to get started.” As a freshman,
new to both campus and community, the task was a bit
daunting: get to know the ins and outs of the program,
write an application, set up the interview process,
recruit and accept new members, and facilitate meetings.
It was difficult with new challenges around every corner.
During the spring semester, as we were accepting new
members, the United States was on the brink of war and
all incoming AmeriCorps programs were frozen. Thus,
Dickinson Bonner leaders had to decide whether to continue
without the monetary educational awards. Fortunately,
my class decided that the educational award was just
the icing on the cake of a great program. We chose to
As I was learning how to be a leader and facilitator,
my placement for the next two years was in the Dickinson
College Student Garden. For ten hours a week, I worked
with great people, learned about sustainable agriculture,
tutored children about growing food, and delivered food
to the community. My Bonner placement offered more than
a shallow perspective on hunger or the performance of
charity. It was an educational experience that connected
the classroom and the community. Everyday life illustrated
the theories regarding socioeconomic inequalities, power
structures, and hegemony that I had learned about as
an American studies major.
Moreover, not only did Bonner extend my classroom into
the community, it brought me into the community as well.
I got to know the people, culture, and problems of Carlisle,
Pennsylvania, making it not just a place to go to college,
but also my hometown. Likewise, Bonner itself has become
another home away from home. When I am performing my
various roles for Bonner, either on campus or nationally,
I am most myself. The comfort that comes from doing
something that you love while you are supported by people
and an institution that wants to see you succeed is
Lastly, Bonner is integrated into almost every line
in my résumé. The professional skills
I obtained from my service placement, Bonner Student
Congress meetings, internships at the foundation, conference
planning, and representing the foundation on an advisory
board have made me competitive as I enter the job market.
Bonner has helped shape me into the person that I am.
More importantly, I know that it will be there supporting
me as I become the person that I will be.