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Bonner Community-Engaged Learning Initiative

Page history last edited by Robert Hackett 4 months ago

Front Page / Campus-Wide Integration / Bonner Community-Engaged Learning Initiative / Overview 



Bonner CEL Initiative - Overview

Overview  |  Request for Proposals (RFP  |  Campus Examples  |  Documents to Download




The current 2023-24 school year is the fifth year of the Bonner Foundation Community-Engaged Learning Initiative (see the Request for Proposals now available for the 2023-24 year). Our goal is to support the integration of community-engaged learning and deep, reciprocal, and developmental community-engaged projects across all of the institutions in our network.


This work builds on previous strategic initiatives, including efforts to seed community-based research (Learn & Serve CBR funding from 1997-2009), promote the development of minors and certificates (FIPSE funding 2004-2008), link high-impact teaching and learning with community engagement, and integrate students’ culminating capstones with community engaged projects (Bonner support 2011-2014), and additional support since 2015 to support campuses in developing Community-Engaged Signature Work through capacity-building capstones.




We believe the next phase of community-engaged learning will need to build on a recognition that “teaching and learning are foreseen to be flexible, collaborative, project or challenge-based and cross-disciplinary.” We see the Bonner Program’s four-year developmental design as fitting this shift in the teaching and learning paradigm. We have seen increasing interest in how the Bonner Program model might be adapted for how schools seeking to integrate curricular and co-curricular education, training, and reflection with real-world engagement and problem solving. We have also seen increasing interest in linking community and civic engagement efforts to institutional responses to diversity, equity, and inclusion opportunities.


These shifts put the campus community-engagement movement at a critical juncture in which institutional leaders are seeking to expand community-engaged learning opportunities for their students but are not always sure how to effectively scale up their efforts. Every campus in the Bonner Network has faculty who have successfully designed and led individual community-engaged learning courses and who have embraced project-based learning with real-world partner organizations and communities. Every center in our network has staff with experience in leading this work but often not at the scale that this opportunity demands. As institutions face the challenge and opportunity to move past disjointed co-curricular community engagement to ones that are more integrative, developmental, and scalable, we are seeking to identify and develop models that are effective for students, faculty, campus, and community partners alike.


To guide and connect our various initiatives, we have set a long-term goal that 20-25% of the entire graduating classes at the small and medium size colleges and universities in our network complete a community-engaged capstone-level project.  We have not set a specific target date to achieve this goal, but we believe it is realistic based on the level of interest campus-wide among students at the schools in our network.


As we move ahead, the Bonner Foundation will rely on our network as a national learning community bound together by a common program model, a set of values and commitments, and 30 years of meeting and collaborating on finding and sharing best practices. As outlined below, we will continue to provide training, technical assistance, and networking support to participating campuses, and continue offering grants to eligible campuses in the Bonner Network to spur innovation and implementation of successful models. In this process, we will devote renewed energy and resources to support faculty and staff to work collaboratively on reimagining and reshaping curriculum and degrees in ways that involve faculty and students in  addressing critical issues in partnership with the communities where they live and work.


Goals and Strategy


The current Community-Engaged Learning (CEL) initiative seeks to advance community-engaged learning across the curriculum at institutions within the Bonner Network. The CEL Initiative is support innovative community-engaged courses, engaging faculty as allies in broader efforts to shift culture and policies and infrastructure to sustain this work, and create integrated pathways that engage a significant percentage of the student population in multi-year developmental community-engaged learning experiences culminating in a capstone-level project. The design is informed by the current context of the field and promotes best practices, including deep reciprocal community partnerships and affirming the leadership of staff, community partners, and students with faculty as valued colleagues in community engagement initiatives.


Over this year and beyond, colleges and universities in the Bonner Network will build campus communities of practice. At the same time, the Bonner Foundation will expand its national community of practice to involve more faculty. Each institution’s plan involves four reinforcing elements:


  • Supporting Faculty on Course Development that engage students in community-based research or other forms of capacity-building projects, policy research using an issue brief model, and social action using a model where students launch policy-change campaigns during the semester.


  • Building Community-Engaged Learning Infrastructure that supports community partnerships, courses, tracking, and reporting.


  • Engaging Faculty Fellows as Change Leaders in formalized roles with the Bonner Program and campus-wide community engagement center on projects that develop new institutional policies and build institutional infrastructure for campus-wide faculty engagement and curriculum change.   


  • Developing Community-Engaged Pathways that link new or revised community-engaged learning courses, internships, and experiences into multi-year, developmental pathways that culminate in capstone-level projects.




The Bonner Community-Engaged Learning initiative builds on a series of prior initiatives that sought to integrate academic courses with community engagement opportunities.


  • Beginning in 1997, the Bonner Foundation led an effort to introduce and spread community-based research as a form of service learning.  With nine years of federal funding from the Corporation for National & Community Service’s Learn & Serve America Program, we were able to provide sub-grants to participating campuses, hold annual gatherings for training and resource sharing, and publish a series of books and journals on community-based research.  

  • In 2004, we worked with a group of fifteen campuses to develop civic engagement minors, concentrations or certificates.  This three year effort was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, and produced several publications, including “Civic Engagement at the Center” with the American Association of Colleges and Universities. 

  • In 2011, we began working with teams of faculty, staff, students, and community partners on an effort to integrate community-engagement into high impact practices.  This effort brought those teams together each summer for a five day retreat for planning, training, and networking.  Foundation staff worked closely with each campus to help design and implement their efforts, many of which included the development of service-learning courses.

  • In 2015, we launched a learning community focused on integrating Community-Engaged Signature Work into students’ experiences. With the progress of fifteen schools on this effort, we adopted the goal that all the schools in our network to integrate community-engaged capstone projects as an expectation for all Bonner Scholars, and expressed the goal that 20-25% of all graduating students would complete a community-engaged capstone project. In collaboration with the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), we co-edited a special edition of their Diversity & Democracy Digest on the theme of “Community-Engaged Signature Work.”

  • In 2016, we began to work with faculty to develop courses that teach social action with the intent of student teams designing and implementing a social action campaign as part of the course. This effort is being developed in partnership with Dr. Scott Myers-Lipton, a professor of sociology at San Jose State University and author of “Change! A Student Guide to Social Action.”


  • In 2019-20, we began the Bonner Community-Engaged Learning Initiative, offering campuses the opportunity to apply for grants to (1) develop and guide cohorts of faculty in integrating CEL with courses and academic pathways and (2) work concurrently on important institutional change projects, such as course inventories and designators, tenure and promotion, faculty advising structures, etc. Twenty-four campuses participated.


  • In 2020-21 and 2021-22, we continued the Bonner Community-Engaged Learning Initiative, offering campuses the opportunity to apply for grants to (1) develop and guide cohorts of faculty in integrating CEL with courses and academic pathways and (2) work concurrently on important institutional change projects, such as course inventories and designators, tenure and promotion, faculty advising structures, etc. To date, twenty-seven campuses have  participated.