Strategic Plan

Transformation Goals • Strategic Goals • Strategic Initiatives

In April, 2019 Bonner Foundation staff updated their strategic plan for supporting schools participating in the National Bonner Network. Click here for a PDF copy of the plan.

Transformation Goals

The Bonner Program is designed to transform not only the students who are directly supported by the program, but also the campus and community in which they serve and learn. The goals of the program are identified in four areas: student development, community involvement, campus engagement, and higher education.

  • To provide “access to education and an opportunity to serve” for diverse students with high financial need who are committed to developing and applying their abilities, talents, education, and leadership in service to communities.

  • To channel the energies of college students, faculty, and staff to address community-defined needs and opportunities for effecting positive change.

  • Position the Bonner Program as a model and catalyst for campus-wide community engagement and service-based scholarships with student leadership as a signature feature.

  • Support the growth of campus-wide centers that play important brokering and educational roles to expand community engagement and learning across the institution.

  • Support the development of integrative educational and experiential pathways, and the structures that support them, especially those that culminate in community-engaged capstone projects in which students apply learning to address social issues.

  • Catalyze and support the development and engagement of professional staff and faculty who design, teach, lead, manage, evaluate, and refine community engagement work.

  • Be engaged in reimagining teaching, learning, and scholarship so that community engagement can be an important, effective strategy for higher education, including through projects that support community and higher education stakeholders working collaboratively to improve the wellbeing of communities.

  • Build a community of practice across a consortium of diverse higher education institutions which share a commitment to the model of the Bonner Program, its Common Commitments, and its goals for access and integrating community engagement across institutions.

Strategic Goals

The Bonner Program has always provided diverse low income students from historically underrepresented backgrounds, including low-income African American, Asian, Latinx, and White with an opportunity to earn a college degree while developing civic leadership and purpose through four years of community engagement tied to the work expectation in their financial aid packages. More than 85 percent of Bonner Scholars are Pell-eligible, and forty percent of Bonners are first generation students. Our combined assessments, including on student learning, retention, and completion, all point to the valuable impact that participation in the program plays for students in the Bonner Program. Today, students who share the demographic characteristics of Bonners are increasing their proportions in higher education. We know that the Bonner Program model has valuable, replicable lessons to share with the rest of their campuses and higher education about what practices work best to support student success and learning. 

At the same time, mounting evidence for community engagement – including its resounding link to high-impact pedagogical practices – now make the case for the integration of community engagement across the curriculum. As they do so, such practices must also shift teaching and learning to be not only more student-centered but also more problem-focused and collaborative. The community engagement movement has the opportunity now to connect student impact and community impact, but to do so will require new forms of institutional integration. 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.”  The Bonner Program is moving in this direction as well.  And, we have seen increasing interest in how elements of the Bonner Program model might be adapted as campuses in our network seek to integrate curricular and co-curricular education, training, and reflection with real-world engagement and problem solving.

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 their efforts. The good news is that 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 partner organizations and communities. Every center in our network also have staff with experience in leading this work, including in developing deep, reciprocal, impactful community partnerships.  And, the Bonner Program model has demonstrated positive recruiting, retention, and learning outcomes in students who participate in sustained, structured, meaningful community engagement experiences.

At a time when institutions face the challenge and opportunity to move past disjointed co-curricular community engagement to creating pathways that are integrated, developmental, and scalable, the Bonner Program and Network is positioned to serve as a valuable model and resource, with a critical mass of experienced staff, students, faculty, and community partners who can help lead innovation on their campuses and in their communities.

Our overarching strategic goal is to have 20-25% of the entire student body at the small and medium-size colleges and universities in our network complete a community-engaged, capstone-level project in their junior and/or senior year.  These capacity-building and social action projects will become a central feature of the long-term, multi-faceted community-campus partnerships, as well as of the undergraduate experience.  

We believe this goal is ambitious but realistic.  We have begun this effort by working with campuses to have 100% of Bonners complete a capstone-level community-engagement project before they graduate.  We expect to achieve this goal in the next three years through a series of strategic initiatives to strengthen the Bonner Program which continues to be a source of innovation nearly 30 years after its founding.

At the same time, we are launching a series of campus-wide initiatives that together we hope will build the capacity and motivation of campuses to engage a much larger percentage of students in an integrated, developmental pathway that leads to their completing a capstone level community-engagement project before they graduate. 

Before describing our strategic initiatives, three key points are worth considering in regards to making capstone-level community engagement projects a strategic, campus-wide goal.

First, by definition, capstone-level community engagement projects represent the highest level of impact for both students and community partners.  These projects leverage the many resources of the campus — intellectual, technical, financial, space, and prestige — in response to requests made by community partners. In doing so, these projects deepen the reciprocal relationships our schools have with their community partners, providing much needed assistance to partner organizations while also providing transformative learning opportunities for students seeking to address complex issues in the real world.

Second, to be prepared to take on these projects, developmental opportunities in the form of curricular and co-curricular community engagement pathways must to be in place for students develop the skills, knowledge, and aptitudes for these level of community-engaged work.  And there will need to be multiple community-engagement pathways because students interests vary and social, economic, and environmental challenges are similarly diverse.

Third, achieving this higher level of community-engaged teaching, learning, and impact will require improvements and innovations in campus policies, courses, training, organizational structures, staffing, and funding.  For instance, year-long, nine-credit project-based practicums have proven to be an effective model at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, as have a series of five-week, one-credit skill-based courses at Emory & Henry College among many others.  Similarly, the ‘consulting corps’ model in which students form a pro-bono, skill-based ‘firm’ with a faculty advisor allows for on-going project-based work unconstrained by the semester-based course calendar.  These new intermediary organizational structures may allow campuses to scale the number and range of capstone-level community-engagement projects they can manage while ensuring that community partners receive high quality and timely products.

Strategic Initiatives

1. Strengthen the Bonner Program

We seek to integrate capstone-level community engagement projects for 100% of the students in the Bonner Program within the next three years. The Bonner Program provides a developmental pathway that can prepare students for community-engaged capacity-building and/or social action projects in their third and fourth years in the program. To reach our goal of having all Bonners complete a capstone-level community engagement project, we have launched the following strategic initiatives to strengthen the Bonner Program:

  • Encourage and support campuses to implement the 8 Themes Curriculum as part of comprehensive, four-year training, education, and reflection calendar.

  • Support Bonner Programs to integrate a workshop series and other processes that prepare Bonners to complete a capstone-level community-engaged project (as individuals or in teams) that applies college learning to build the capacity of a community-based organization or launch a social action campaign.

  • Expand and deepen the range of capacity-building project opportunities with local, regional, and national partners.

  • Update the Bonner Web-Based Reporting System (BWBRS) so that it keeps pace with program changes and can serve as an efficient, effective tracking tool.

  • Engage our 18,000+ Bonner Alumni through an online platform, as well as through community and campus events, to connect with each other and the programs.

8 Themes Curriculum

We have begun to collaborate with the schools in the network to implement a core curriculum of training, education, and reflection for all Bonners that will prepare them to do capstone-level community level project work, and for a lifetime of community engagement. 

The suggested training calendar for Bonner class meetings has a specific theme aligned to the developmental path for each of the eight semesters a Bonner is in the program. For each theme, we have developed four 60-minute workshop modules that can be delivered during regular class meetings or on a weekend retreat or orientation. Since this is a new endeavor, we invited schools to adapt these themes in their own four year Bonner training, education, and reflection curriculum. Adoption of this core curriculum will result in a more coherent, consistent experience for class-based meetings across the Bonner Network.  Read more:

Capstone Preparation Workshops

We are rolling out a new series of eight recommended workshops (one for each semester) that are designed to help students to identify, plan, and carry out an individual or team-based capacity-building or social action capstone project by their senior year. These workshops provide structural support and assignments along the way, enabling staff to coach students how to integrate these capstone projects over four years.  Read more:

Expand Capacity-Building Project Opportunities

Capacity-building projects are the most common capstone-level project being completed by Bonners (vs. social action projects).  Project-based community engagement is requiring many campuses to develop a new set of processes and support structures that differ in important ways from the longstanding direct service and internship placements.  We are sharing strategies that will help campuses work with their community partners to develop capacity-building project opportunities. These strategies: 1) meeting with community partners in small focus groups (often groups working on similar issues), 2) developing a capacity-building project opportunity database, 3) helping students find faculty advisors, and 4) advising Bonners on linking these projects to their academic courses or senior thesis requirements where possible.

We are also encouraging campuses to reach out to local and regional collaboratives to identify their capacity-building needs, thus moving beyond the traditional service provider partners.  Read more:

BWBRS 4.0 Platform

After 15 years and three evolutionary updates, we are rewriting the Bonner Web-Based Reporting System (BWBRS) from the ground-up. In this process, we are re-envisioning the role of the tracking system in assisting students, staff, community partners, and alumni in achieving our community and student transformation goals.  For instance, we are refining community-engagement opportunities to include capacity-building and social action projects.  In addition, changes in Community Learning Agreements and end-of-term reflections will help students to consider and articulate how they are integrating capacity building into their ongoing work with partners. These and other improvements to BWBRS will also assist staff in more efficiently managing communications with community partners and students, including the reporting and tracking requirements of the Bonner Program.

Bonner Alumni Network

The central goal for the Bonner Alumni Network is to make it possible for our 18,000+ Bonner alumni to connect with one another, as well as with current Bonner Scholars and Leaders. Creating a vibrant, engaged online community drawn together by the common thread of their Bonner experiences will promote the Bonner mission by fostering networking, lifelong learning, and opportunities to contribute to communities and society. With the Bonner Alumni base growing by approximately 750 graduates each year, we will also work with our network to develop service-focused alumni events that leverage the talents, passions, and resources of their Bonner alumni to help strengthen the quality and impact of their respective Bonner Programs and campus-wide community engagement programming. This will include exploring ways Bonner Alums can serve as mentors to current Bonners as they pursue their capstone-level community-engagement projects.  Read more:

2. Strengthen Campus-Wide Community Engagement

Our strategic aims to strengthen campus-wide community engagement include a focus on five elements:

  • Strengthen campus-wide centers through ongoing efforts to build their capacity, effectiveness, management, integration with other units, and in engaging faculty in the work of the center.

  • Support the creation of community-engaged academic pathways that offer a developmental progression of academic course work linked to community engagement opportunities.

  • Support faculty to incorporate social action projects into new or revised academic courses. 

  • Develop and implement issue-based partnerships that bring proven models and programs to our campuses, as well as connect students and alumni with ongoing social change efforts.

  • Support staff development through the Bonner Pipeline Project that intentionally focuses on supporting a career pathway for community engagement professionals in the Bonner Network.

  • Create and sustain a set of vibrant national and international partnerships with other organizations that can enhance opportunities for students, quality of programs, and Bonner’s role as a pipeline for the community engagement movement.

Strengthening Campus-Wide Centers

Expanding community engagement opportunities across an institution to engage 20-25% of the graduating class in capstone-level projects will require increased infrastructure to coordinate, manage, and sustain high quality initiatives. The Bonner Program can given participating campuses experience in fostering a holistic experience for students that is only possible because of linkages built across the institution, including with admissions, financial aid, student success, and academic departments. 

We will be increasing our efforts to strengthen campus-wide centers by finding models and other resources that engage faculty in the work of the campus-wide centers through their teaching, research, service. We will provide models and other support for involving faculty in: (1) mentoring faculty peers; (2) advising students, especially on capstones; (3) developing and sustaining campus-wide tracking mechanisms and course designators; (4) working to create and approve new degree programs; and (5) working to create rewards and incentives for faculty and students to be fully engaged in this work.  Read more:

Supporting Community-Engaged Academic Pathways

Achieving our goal of 20-25% of the graduating class completing a capstone-level community engagement project will only be possible through campuses offering a wide range of community-engaged academic pathways opportunities for students.  These often take the form of theme or issue-based minors, concentrations, or certificates that link directly to the campus-wide community or civic engagement center and programs. We are also exploring pro-bono “consulting corps” through which students use specific skills developed in their academic disciplines to respond to project requests from community partners similar to a legal clinic at a law school.  We have seen examples of this approach in academic areas such as communications, technology, survey research, policy research, and non-profit management.

Launched in Spring, 2019, the Bonner Foundation’s Community-Engaged Learning Initiative will: (1) support campuses in recruiting and supporting faculty members to be involved; (2) offer models for using learning communities and cohorts where faculty can build a community of practice and learn community engaged pedagogies; (3) provide resources, funds, and models for these efforts; and (4) provide campuses with guidance for how to link courses in scaffolded ways (such as a consulting corps, issue-focused minors, problem-based learning, etc.).  Read more:

Social Action Courses

Social action aims to change policies and is a core strategy for the “justice oriented citizen” and meets the Foundation-defined goal of a capstone-level community engagement project.  With the support of Scott Myers-Lipton, professor of sociology from San Jose State University, we have begun to introduce a community engagement course model through which students learn social action theory and practice while also launching (or joining) a social action campaign during the academic semester in which the course is taught.  We are actively recruiting faculty, staff, and students both inside and outside the Bonner Network who are interested in integrating social action into a new or existing course.  

We will continue to work with faculty to support course development through: 1) a webinar series, 2) workshops and entire tracks at our national Bonner meetings, and 3) the development of a “field guide” to give specific examples of lesson plans and other practical steps and handouts for those who are seeking to incorporate social action into their course or workshop series.  Read more:

Issue-Focused Strategic Partnerships

We will work national issue-focused organizations to bring their expertise and networks to support campuses in their the local and regional efforts to more effectively engage with local community partners to organize and complete capstone-level community projects. For instance, our partnership with the Congressional Hunger Center (CHC) is allowing for campus programs and students to access its expertise with reducing hunger and poverty through using curriculum, adding related courses (i.e., Zero Hunger Initiative course), and piloting programs.

In addition, national partnerships also lend themselves to forming issue-based summer internship cohorts that can further develop student knowledge and skills while leading to career opportunities for students when they graduate. We are hopeful that our pilot initiatives will provide a model upon which we can develop other issue-based national partnerships. Such issue-based strategies ultimately seek to provide community partners with a steady stream of informed, trained, and reliable students who can take on a range of capacity-building and policy-related roles in their organizations, during and after graduation.  Read more:

Staff Development through a Bonner Pipeline Project

As we push towards 20-25% of students completing a capstone-level community engagement project, the leadership role for campus staff has become significantly more complex as they manage more ambitious student development, community partnerships, and integration with faculty and other offices and departments campus. The Bonner Pipeline Project seeks to support the professional development of community engagement staff by helping them to gain and articulate the knowledge, skills, values, and strategies embodied in successful community engagement professionals. 

Our approach embraces a developmental lens that focuses not only the competencies but also the philosophy and programmatic strategies to realize an expanded vision for community and civic-engagement and learning.  The Bonner Foundation’s Pipeline Project aims to (1) integrate competency-based approaches into our national meetings; (2) offer other opportunities, such as webinars; (3) provide advising, mentoring, and networking opportunities for staff; and (4) connect such efforts with other visible forms of career development and advancement.  Read more:

Additional National Bonner Partners

Besides strategic partnerships, national partnerships allow us to broaden and deepen the opportunities that Bonner students and campuses have to work on issues and be connected to an inspiring network for social change. Representatives of national partner organizations present workshops at Bonner meetings, offer internships, and often offer campus-based program models. We currently have national partners offering 57 distinct opportunities in a range of areas:  domestic service opportunities (10); international service opportunities (11); internships and other short-term opportunities (7); year-long service and fellowship programs (8); teaching (4); and resource sharing (11). 

We seek to expand the range and depth of our partnerships with national and international organizations, especially with graduate school opportunities. Currently, we have six graduate school partners that offer Bonners waivers on application fees and additional scholarship support.  These arrangements make further education a possibility for the many Bonner graduates who choose to enter masters and doctoral program each year.  Read more:

3. Higher Education Impact

Our strategic aims to position the Bonner Program as a successful component of a campus-wide culture and integration of community engagement, one that also makes an impact on the institution and higher education, include a focus on four elements:

  • Respond to requests by new campuses interested in launching a Bonner Program.

  • Study and examine the impact of the Bonner Program on student success, student learning, and community organizations

  • Share key lessons, resources, and best practices for successful Bonner Programs and the integration of community engagement by colleges and universities, so as to contribute to the field.

Support New Bonner Program Start-Ups

We welcome interest from schools, in part, because each new school that joins the Bonner Network expands the diversity of institutions bringing their own local context, experience, and expertise to bear on our common aspirations. Two thirds of the schools in the Bonner Network have launched Bonner Leader Programs modeled on the original Bonner Scholar Program, and each year 3-4 new schools join our ranks.  Together, these schools have taught us that “replication is not duplication.” Though we have identified a core model for Bonner Leader schools, each school we partner with integrates core requirements (such as the four-year commitment) to build and implement a version of the Bonner Program that will advance community engagement on their campus.  Read more:

Bonner Student Impact Survey

We are launching a new Student Impact Survey (SIS) in Spring, 2019 campuses. This SIS includes a number of detailed questions about key program components (such as meetings, trainings, reflection, capstones, and about service roles) and will also help us to clarify and articulate the key ingredients for student learning through the four-year, developmental experience that includes a capstone-level community-engagement project and a culminating reflection (in their Senior Presentation of Learning). The data will allow us to refine our understanding of the links between program implementation and impact.  Read more:

Share Lessons, Resources and Best Practices with the Field

As the Bonner Foundation prepares for the Bonner Program’s 30th anniversary in 2020, we will take stock of our collective achievements and consider the challenges ahead.  In this process, we will continue to identify, articulate, and share best practices more broadly. We will accomplish this through our own publications and presentations, but especially through strategic partnerships with higher education networks such as the American Association of Colleges and Universities, Campus Compact, and Bringing Theory to Practice, as well as through national issue-based partnerships with groups such as the Congressional Hunger Center.  Read more:

National Bonner Network 

The Bonner Network has 65+ colleges and universities (see list below) supported by the Bonner Foundation’s four full-time staff, one half-time staff, and two additional staff supported through our New Jersey AmeriCorps Program partnership with The College of New Jersey. Our technical support to the Bonner Network includes: a) organizing a series of national meetings, b) hosting regular webinars, c) making on-campus visits to meet with administrators, faculty, students, and community partners, and d) maintaining the Bonner Resource Wiki.  We will be providing small grants to support some of our strategic initiatives.

To support on-going communication with and among the schools in the Bonner Network, we send out a weekly email newsletter and facilitate an online discussion list.  We also maintain a web-based reporting and tracking platform to assist schools in managing the Bonner Program.

We have organized three channels for input from the key stakeholders in the Bonner Network: a) Presidents Advisory Council, b) Directors Advisory Council, c) Bonner (student) Advisory Board, and d) Alumni Network Advisory Council (in the process of being formed).