Community-Engaged Learning

Strategy  •  Background  •  Next Steps  •  Available Resources


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In 2019-2020, the Bonner Foundation is continuing its efforts to support the integration of community-engaged learning across the institution. This work builds on previous strategic initiatives, including efforts to seed community-based research, promote the development of minors and certificates, link high-impact teaching and learning with community engagement, and integrate students’ culminating capstones with community engaged projects. These efforts continue to support colleges and universities to integrate community engagement with coursework in meaningful ways, particularly to create integrated, scaffolded experiences.

Currently, more than 25 colleges and universities in our network are participating in a national learning community with a two-fold focus: (1) engaging faculty (as well as student leaders and partners) in linking courses with community engagement; (2) working on change initiatives to foster institutional and community infrastructure and culture that will support and sustain this work. Moving past a model to seed single service-learning courses, each campus has articulate a strategy that seeks to do one or more of the following:

  1. Support faculty, staff, and students to create integrated, community-engaged issue or theme-based academic pathways that link or scaffold community-engaged learning courses and experiences which lead to a capstone-level, community engagement project. These pathways can be organized around an issue (e.g., food security), or theme (e.g., civic innovation). This work on creating an community-engaged academic pathway may focus on both individual course development and on formal academic programs (e.g., minors, concentrations, or certificates) that are linked to a departmental / interdisciplinary structure and sustained community-engagement partnerships managed by the campus-wide center.

  2. Support faculty or a team of faculty members to create skill-based, community-engaged learning courses connected to a “consulting corps” internship or fellowship program (e.g., a marketing course that prepares select students to intern in a student-run “communications firm” that develops PR campaigns for non-profit clients; or a state and local government course that prepares select students to serve as fellows in a community policy institute that produces issue briefs and other policy research for local and regional organizations and government agencies); and,

  3. Support faculty in creating or modifying individual courses to include community-engagement components, with an emphasis on courses that engage students in community-based research, capacity-building, and/or social action projects.

Additionally, led by a staff and faculty partner, each campus has identified important priorities for institutional and cultural change. Examples of change projects include to:

  • Build relationships for campus-wide faculty engagement — help foster connections across departments and other units (e.g., Centers for Teaching and Learning) to recruit, train, and mentor faculty in community-engaged pedagogies.

  • Build the center and infrastructure for campus-wide faculty engagement — for instance by clarifying conceptualizations, working to approve new academic programs, manage cohorts of engaged faculty, etc.

  • Enhance community partnerships and projects that provide capacity building— especially those that allow partners to have their requests for research and academic work met through sustained connections with faculty and departments.

  • Track and promote quality of campus-wide faculty engagement — such as through community-engaged course inventories, course tracking or designators (e.g., GivePulse, Banner, etc.), work on the Carnegie Community Engagement Application process, etc.

  • Address institutional barriers to community-engaged learning, such as tenure and promotion change – as well as financial incentives and rewards for faculty, students and partners; interrelationship with institutional priorities (e.g., faculty diversity and hiring), etc.

  • Build community infrastructure to engage partners in reciprocal, co-educator roles – such as through collecting requests, working with collaboratives or collective impact models.

  • Engage students as colleagues with faculty and partners – and also work to force sustained connections between faculty with the Bonner Program and other co-curricular programs.


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.

Our current work builds on a series of prior initiatives designed to integrate civic education and community-engaged learning experiences into curriculum in ways that reach students campus-wide.

  • 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.”

  • More recently, 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.”

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.

The campus community-engagement movement now face an opportunity 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 an overarching strategic goal of having 100% of Bonners complete a community-engaged capstone-level project in their junior and/or senior year. We expect to achieve this near-term goal in the next three years. In addition, 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.


Launched in summer 2019, this initiative already involves:

  • Allegheny College • Averett University

  • Bates College • Berea College

  • Brown University • Capital University

  • Colorado College • College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University

  • Edgewood College • Kentucky Wesleyan College

  • Lindsey Wilson College • Mars Hill University

  • Maryville College • Montclair State University

  • Morehouse College • Siena College

  • Stockton University • The College of New Jersey

  • UNC Chapel Hill • University of Lynchburg

  • Wagner University • Washburn University

  • Washington & Lee University • Widener University

The Bonner Foundation is supporting this work through a number of mechanisms including:

  • Building tracks at the Fall Directors Meeting and Summer Leadership Institute that will involve faculty and staff allies. These sessions will build a community of practice across the institutions, as well as support campus-based efforts.

  • Developing curriculum and training for faculty (and cohort members) in community-engaged teaching, learning, and scholarship. You can find facilitated session plans to use with your cohorts on the Bonner Wiki here.

  • Launching a listserv where staff, faculty, and student colleague leaders can share their strategies, models, questions, and resources. To subscribe, contact

  • Using a new platform, within the Bonner Learning Community (a Mighty Networks site), to share resources, ideas, models, analysis, and more with the staff and faculty principle investigators (PIs) and leaders for each campus.

  • We also plan to produce new resources and publications to share with the Bonner Network and the field more broadly.

Available Resources

On the Bonner Wiki you can find a wide range of resources related to our efforts and for supporting this work. This includes the RFP, templates for campus cohorts, faculty development guides, campus examples, resources for tenure and promotion change, campus centers, and other resources. See several pages including: