Community-Engaged Academic Pathways

Strategy  •  Background  •  Next Steps  •  Available Resources


issue-based & competency-based pathways

Click to enlarge.

With support from the Foundation, many campuses nationally have also sought to create academic pathways such as minors, tied to community and civic engagement or specific issues (like poverty or health).  There are also skill or competency-based pathways emerging.

In 2004, the Bonner Foundation began work with 15 campuses to create a model for civic engagement minors, concentrations, and academic programs, with support from the U.S. Department of Education and its Fund for Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE). Click to download.

In 2004, the Bonner Foundation began work with 15 campuses to create a model for civic engagement minors, concentrations, and academic programs, with support from the U.S. Department of Education and its Fund for Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE). Click to download.

Many campuses are developing minors, concentrations, or certificates that link directly to their community or civic engagement programs. A few campuses in the Bonner Network require Bonners to enroll in theirs, making the Bonner Program fully integrated (curricular and co-curricular). Others have developed issue-focused concentrations. Below are just a few models:

  • Allegheny College: Values, Ethics and Social Action (major or minor)
  • Emory & Henry College: Major in Social Innovation (formerly the major in Public Policy and Community Service)
  • Macalester College: Concentration in Community and Global Health
  • Siena College: Certificate in Community Development (required for Bonner Leaders)
  • Washington & Lee University: Interdisciplinary Minor in the Study of Poverty (which requires an undergraduate community-based research project)

Community-Engaged Capstones

The Bonner network is working to transform programs and curriculum to ensure that all students have opportunities to tie college learning to real-world experience through integrated capstones.

Building on its other models for academic integration (including high-impact practices and minors), the Bonner Foundation and network has responded by focusing on the development of integrative pathways which culminate in “Community Engaged Signature Work” or capstone projects. In the past few years, the Foundation has supported the work of a cohort learning community of institutions to develop the infrastructure for community-engaged Signature Work that can involve both individual students and teams of students and faculty in capstone level projects. 


As community engaged in higher education has gained traction, it has used various strategies to connect with college curriculum. Some scholars, like Dan Butin, have argued that the field should develop into a discipline. In 2003, with a grant from the Department of Education and its FIPSE initiative, the Bonner Foundation Program began work on developing a civic engagement academic program model. More than 15 institutions became involved in these efforts including: Mars Hill College (NC), The College of New Jersey (NJ), Washington and Lee University, UCLA (CA), Portland State University (OR), Colorado College (CO), Lynchburg College (VA), Morehouse College (GA), Rutgers-Douglas College (NJ), Saint Mary’s College (CA), University of Alaska Anchorage, Wagner University (NY), and West Chester University.

Most of these campuses developed minors or certificates that could be tied to the Bonner Program. These academically connected trajectories often included:

  • A first year course
  • Coursework in economics and understanding poverty
  • Coursework in public policy, often with a practicum
  • Undergraduate research experience, often tied to a community project
  • A capstone course/project

The model spurred the development of a publication “Civic Engagement at the Center: Building Democracy through Integrated Curricular and Co-curricular Experiences,” published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2008. [link]. Additionally, it influenced others in the field, such as the Center for Engaged Democracy, and the spreading of civic engagement academic programs across the nation.

In 2015, in light of a decade’s work on the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative, the Association of American Colleges and Universities announced the LEAP Challenge, a new charge for colleges and universities to integrate “Signature Work” into the experiences of all undergraduate students. Signature Work is defined as a culminating educational activity (such as a capstone) in which students integrate and apply their learning to a significant project with meaning to the student and to society (AACU, 2015). 

Next Steps

Our aspiration is to integrate Community-Engaged Signature Work (Capstones) into the undergraduate journeys of all Bonner Scholars and Leaders, as well as a significant number of graduating students each year at the colleges and universities where the Bonner Program is housed. To succeed, the Foundation and network are working on:

  • Engaging community partners in articulating their requests for capacity-building projects and academic research
  • Developing the necessary educational supports for students, including within the Bonner Program and beyond
  • Sharing related scholarship and models for faculty development and engagement
  • Institutional change processes, such as curriculum mapping

Available Resources

On the Bonner Wiki you can find guides, campus examples, and links to other resources on Community-Engaged Signature Work and on Community-Engaged Academic Pathways.