Bonner Common Commitments
About ten years after the establishment of the Bonner Program, the Bonner Foundation brought together staff and students involved in the program to articulate a common language about the goals and values of Program. Through a series of focus groups and discussion sessions at various Bonner-sponsored gatherings, six Common Commitments were identified as representing the collective beliefs about the types of values and personal commitments that those connected through the Program encounter and explore. Each Bonner Program weaves the exploration of the Common Commitments into their work in various ways, including reflection activities, trainings, film screenings and discussions, and coursework.
Community Building: Establish and sustain a vibrant community of place, personal relationships and common interests.
The intensive, four-year, cohort-based design of the Bonner Program has enabled campuses to deepen partnerships in their local communities, which in turn has strengthened and expanded opportunities for campus-wide engagement. Local organizations depend on the steady, multiyear presence of Bonners who provide the backbone to many of their programs. In turn, through the campus-wide community engagement centers, Bonners help support other student service efforts at these agencies through student clubs and organizations, as well as faculty-led service-learning and community-based research courses.
Diversity: Respect the many different dimensions of diversity in our public lives.
Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of the Bonner Program’s goals and experience. The selection criteria of the Bonner Program ensure a diverse team of Bonner students enter the program each year. In turn, Bonner students are serving in a wide range of settings, both near campus but also around the country and internationally. To prepare students for these different experiences and their service roles in diverse settings, campus staff provide on-going skill training and reflection opportunities on issues of related to diversity. As a result, Bonners are equipped to be effective participants and leaders in the program, across campus, and in the various communities they enter and belong.
It is important to note that the 2000-2008 longitudinal Bonner Student Impact Surveys told us that students valued and gained significant skills in dialogue with others across difference in the program, and that this the strongest predictor of cultivating civic outcomes after college. We also believe these experiences and relationships, both in the program with other Bonners who themselves are from diverse backgrounds and in the community with agency staff and clients and others (who often serve in an informal mentoring role), contributes significantly to the positive retention to graduation rates among students in the Bonner Program.
Civic Engagement: Participate intentionally as a citizen in the democratic process, actively engaging in public policy and Social action.
The Bonner Program’s four-year developmental model for community and civic engagement has both proven the value of such an approach in terms of student outcomes but also provided a series of best practices for adoption by academic departments and other programs campus-wide. The developmental path moves from short-term direct service opportunities (e.g., tutoring) to leadership roles (e.g., coordinating the after-school tutoring program) to capacity-building projects (e.g., researching evidence-based practices in tutoring programs in response to requests from community partner seeking to redesign their program) and social action campaigns (e.g., organizing a local network of after-school programs seeking increased funding for their programs from the local school board).
As we describe below, new models are emerging on campuses for linking academic courses, direct service experiences (including school-year and summer internships), and community-based research into defined issue- or skill-based civic engagement academic pathways culminating in a community-engaged capstone project.
In this process, we have also begun to organize resources and networking on issue areas in common across our network of campuses.
Social Justice: Advocate for fairness, impartiality, and equality while addressing systemic social and environmental issues.
We have had a longstanding emphasis on a continuum of service that leads from charity to justice, as outlined above (and allows for a student or graduate to find their place along this work during and after college). Our Bonner Student Impact Survey has shown us that developmentally most Bonners come to an understanding of social justice (and the systemic nature of the challenges facing communities and individuals in need) in their third and fourth years. This occurs through formal and informal dialogue with faculty, community partners, other Bonners and Bonner staff.
To further this goal, we have been encouraging schools to develop partnerships with various kinds of local and regional collaboratives (e.g., New Brunswick Community Food Alliance or a local Cradle to Career Network) which are working at a systemic level to address a series of related issues. At the same time, we have defined a series of organizational capacity-building roles that students may address through senior capstone and other individual or team-based projects. These are: community-based and policy research, communication, fundraising, training and program development, and volunteer recruitment and management.
International Perspective: Develop international understanding that enables Bonners to participate successfully in a global society.
The place-based (and issue-oriented) emphasis of the Bonner Program has defined the international service trips and partnerships in our network, where campuses have built sustained relationships with specific communities internationally. There is a concerted effort to provide education and training to students prior, during, and after these international service experiences.
A variety of international service organizations have partnered with campuses in our network to assist with logistics, training, and education. In addition, many campuses have found ways to provide an international experience for their students through serving with immigrant and refugee communities in their local communities.
Spiritual Exploration: Explore personal beliefs while respecting the spiritual practices of others.
Our Student Impact Survey showed that 85% of Bonners were motivated to serve by their spiritual or religious beliefs. We have also seen a connection between the service commitments made by Bonners and their longer-term indicators of well-being and equanimity. Bonner staff find various ways to incorporate reflection and discussion of motivations for service and sources of resiliency and meaning in the face of the challenges Bonners and other students are facing in their service and in their own lives.