The Bonner Foundation and Network is working on creating opportunities for "Community Engaged Signature Work," building on the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) Initiative of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. In Community Engaged Signature Work, students integrate, apply, demonstrate, reflect on, and communicate their cumulative learning in a civically-engaged project or activity lasting at least one semester.

For many students and institutions, a Community Engaged Signature Work project might take the form of a formalized capstone. Such a project can be individual or team-based, and it could involve one or several disciplines. Ideally, in such a project students wrestle with complex questions that matter to them and to society. Through Community Engaged Signature Work students will work in partnership with a government or community agency, school, or nonprofit organization to design and carry out academic work that addresses a real-world issue or problem.

The Bonner Foundation and network are striving to make Community Engaged Signature Work part of the experience of Bonner Scholars and Leaders in their culminating year. Additionally, a cohort learning community involving institutions in the network is working to seed the development of Community Engaged Capstones or Signature Work across the curriculum. Ultimately, the aspiration is to involve 15-25 percent of the institution’s graduating seniors each year in formalized Community Engaged Capstones or Signature Work courses/projects. 

While many departments may be have a capstone option or requirement, several features will distinguish Community Engaged Capstone or Signature Work:

  • A community identified need for the student’s academic work;
  • A reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationship that features ongoing dialogue and exchange between the student, community partner, and staff or faculty member helping guide the student;
  • Academic inquiry (which may take many forms) that intentionally connects with the intended purpose and project; and,
  • Mentoring and/or advisory relationships for the students with faculty members and (ideally) community representatives

To be successful in this aim, colleges and universities must build the infrastructure on both the partner and institutional side to sustain this deep engagement. As part of our efforts, the Foundation has developed an approach for a reading group involving faculty, administrators, students, and partners. By engaging with scholarship and articles about capstones and Signature Work, those involved in the campus reading groups will also engage in analyzing their own institutional context and carrying out important planning to build an infrastructure for civically engaged research and scholarship with partners.

In fall 2016, a special issue of Diversity & Democracy, has been developed in partnership by AAC&U and the Bonner Foundation. That issue will be available at aacu.org and linked here.

You can find the reading group design and articles on our Wiki using this link: Reading Group Design.

You can also find additional information and resources at Engaged Signature Work

For additional questions, please contact Ariane Hoy (ahoy@bonner.org).