Student-Led Campus-Wide Engagement

The Bonner Program is built upon the belief in student leadership and voice as critical and central to the program, broader student and campus engagement, and building a sustained and culture infrastructure for engagement. Indeed, this belief is supported by twenty-five years of experience and practice across multiple institutions. To the Bonner Foundation and Program, student leadership has been a common expectation and practice.

The centrality of student leadership is represented in literature and scholarship about students’ roles, as well, in such works as Battistoni and Longo’s (2011) “Students as Colleagues” (in To Serve a Larger Purpose), a phrase also used by the national Campus Compact in some of its reports. The centrality of student leadership and voice, however, has been eclipsed at times in the institutionalization of civic engagement and service-learning (Liu, 1995). In fact, the scholarship in this area may not be  representative of the practice. Programs and centers, like that of Berea College (home of the first Bonner Program) have embedded student leadership into the fabric of center and institutional practice through models like the "Cascading Leadership Structure" (Cochrane & Schill, 2013).

As a Bonner Director or Coordinator and team, you will want to think intentionally about how to build student leadership across not only your Bonner Program, but also across other clubs, organizations, student government, and academic pathways for community engagement.

Best practices in supporting campus-wide student leadership roles include:

  • Building a foundation of diverse student leaders from different campus sources (i.e. service programs, greek life, athletic teams, etc.).
  • Using small net and large net approaches to recruiting and encouraging student leaders. In other words, make direct one-on-one asks of students, as well as provide open space for inquiries and ideas.
  • Building a training calendar with relevant sessions to support and challenge these student leaders.
  • Trusting in the students' abilities to lead initiatives. Providing guidance is excellent, but allow for student ownership and autonomy as well.

You want to be inclusive and strategic in your approaches to identify students for these various leadership roles.  One priority is to build a diverse, inclusive team of student leaders. This means by a number of dimensions including:

  • Race and ethnicity (this is critical and should be modeled in every aspect of your program;
  • Gender and sexual orientation (given the typical predominance of women in service roles, you may need to take special steps to recruit more men into some roles; but also ensure gender balance in leadership);
  • Class (amongst your Bonners, most may be from low-income backgrounds, but think about this in other campus-wide opportunities);
  • Work and leadership style (using tools like Strengths Finder, the Leadership Compass, Myers-Briggs, and other frameworks might help);
  • Strengths and weaknesses (consider the aptitudes not only of students but also of the whole staff and faculty team);
  • Skills and merits (you don’t need everyone to be a great writer or good at spreadsheets; make sure you think about the diverse multitude of skills that make for effective service experiences and learning);
  • Depending on your campus climate, other factors (like geographic representation or spirituality) may also be important; and,
  • Campus representation (including different organizations and departments on campus including the Bonner program, other programs through your campus center for civic engagement, clubs/organizations, or academic courses).