The start of the semester is always busy at any college campus, and it is no different here at TCNJ’s Bonner Institute for Civic and Community Engagement and the Center for Community Engaged Learning and Research. After an eventful summer of facilitating pre-college programs for high school students, an orientation for our 105 Bonners took place in late August. New Bonners were introduced to our program and their new community, while returning Bonners took on their new leadership roles as juniors and seniors. Community partners met with our students to establish new goals for the year, and staff busily met with teams to generate schedules and set expectations.
This year, each Bonner Institute Division will facilitate Community Engaged Learning experiences for close to 400 first year students. They will join the Bonner teams at their regular sites and be introduced to the community and a social issue affecting them. Most importantly, students will experientially learn that college is not only a place to prepare for a career, but also a place that fosters “informed, engaged, responsible citizens” (from A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future).
Aside from direct service and Community Engaged Learning, Bonners participate in a student development program that allows them to explore issues connected to our common commitments, such as Social Justice, Civic Engagement, Community Building, and Diversity, among others. This year, in order to support their educational understanding in particular issues, we created learning communities around two main issues, Education and Environment. Bonner Scholars now participate in more in-depth trainings around Elementary Education, High School Education, Adult Education and Environment/ Food Security.
During August’s Bonner Orientation, they also participated in a “Difficult Dialogues” workshop where they were asked to consider the skills necessary to talk about issues such as Black Lives Matter. From there, Bonner Scholars continued their work on building awareness campaigns around Intersectionality, Political Engagement, Mass Incarceration, and Climate Change issues. Campus-wide events planned so far include:
- Intersectionality week: From September 26th thru September 30th, 6 events are scheduled around the issue of intersectionality. Co-sponsored by organizations like Lamda Tau Omega Sorority, Inc, PRIDE Mentoring Program, Delta Lambda Phi, Delta Sigma Pi, Sigma Lambda Beta, Amnesty International, Best Buddies, Black Student Union, Planned Parenthood Generation Action, Women in Learning and Leadership, Lamda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc, PRISM, and TCNJ Environmental Club. This is an impressive collaboration effort to address issues of race, class and gender.
- Politics Week: During the same week, TCNJ Votes, a coalition of faculty, staff, and students, has organized a number of events to promote voter registration, panel discussion and documentary showings.
- During October 14th thru the 22nd, stations around campus will highlight the issue of mass incarceration, hosted by the Youth and Adult Development Division at the Bonner Institute (formerly Juvenile Justice/ Re-Entry Division).
- The same division is doing a Warm for the Winter coat drive. In the community, they are hosting a number of events for the CJOOS program at PEI and Anchor House.
- The Thrift Project is also getting ready for their first event on September 26th. The project helps raise funds for the Trenton Rescue Mission. Gently used clothes are sold on campus.
- The team that works on “The Wall” a newspaper that brings awareness of homeless issues in mercer county, is busy getting articles ready for their next edition.
TCNJ Bonners continue to provide direct services at many community organizations. For the 12th consecutive year, they are facilitating after school programming with the Greg Grant’s Academic Sports Academy. They continue to serve at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, work with children at Learning Lab with Trenton Urban Promise, teach ESL classes at El Centro, work with the students at the Daylight Twilight program, and run campaigns to decrease greenhouse gas emission on campus under the direction of the President’s Climate Commitment Committee. This year we have also begun collaborating with Meals on Wheel and have a team that ensures homebound individuals receive a meal for the day.
Finally, Bonners are gearing up for the Serve-a-thon 2016, a yearly fundraiser for the Center. Much like a walk-a-thon, Bonners are asked to secure sponsors for their participation in a day of service. Our goal this year is to raise $10,000 to support our Center.
So yes, the beginning of the semester has been busy, but only because we are laying the foundation for a productive semester. We look forward seeing you in the community and on campus, and joining us for the many events and activities we have planned!
-Paula Figueroa-Vega, Bonner Institute Director