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History and Recognitions

TCNJ’s Center for Community Engaged Learning and Research houses TCNJ’s community engagement efforts, which have always been a part of the college’s history and mission. Since its founding as the New Jersey Normal School and a public teacher’s college in 1855, The College of New Jersey has publicly professed and demonstrated a commitment to providing relevant education that prepares students to be actively engaged in their communities.  A key part of TCNJ’s and the Center’s missions is to graduate lifelong learners and leaders who contribute to the well-being of the communities they are a part of.  The CELR Center was organized in 2013 to coordinate and develop TCNJ’s varied community engagement efforts for the 21st century.

TCNJ has a long history of faculty engagement and experience with cultivating academically grounded community engagement. In the 1960s and 70s, as Trenton State College, the institution demonstrated a commitment to access and to integrating community issues with teaching and learning. In the 1990s, TCNJ was at the forefront of the service-learning movement. As part of its first-year seminars, all TCNJ students were now required to complete a community engaged learning activity, coordinated through the Office of Civic Leadership Development housed in the Division of Student Affairs.

In 2004, TCNJ created the Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement, first led by Dr. David Prensky. Housed in Academic Affairs, the nascent Bonner Center brought in its first cohort of Bonner Community Scholars. In 2006, the Bonner Center, under the new direction of Patrick Donohue, took on coordination of the first-year community-engaged learning (FYCEL) requirement and began integrating the Bonner Community Scholars program FYCEL management.

In addition, since 2006 the Bonner Community Scholars Program has been reoriented towards supporting a diverse student body through recruitment, and has been organized around issue-based teams. Bonner Scholars now organize and lead FYCEL activities, and work with First Seminar Program faculty to design curricular FYCEL components. Since 2010, Bonner Scholars and staff have also supported upper-level CEL course components (Advanced CEL, or ACEL).

In the summer of 2012, the Center for Community Engagement Learning and Research was created to house the Bonner Institute and other community engaged-related programs and initiatives.  In 2014, community engaged learning was recognized as a signature experience of the college. In April, 2015, the Bonner Community Scholars Program celebrated its 10th year at the College.  As a consequence of these programs, in early 2015 TCNJ received the Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a distinction shared by only eight percent of colleges and university nationwide.  

Over the past few decades, we have developed a robust infrastructure for community engagement that catalyzes every student to be involved during their undergraduate education. Today, TCNJ is positioned to continue to move forward as a national leader in civic and community engagement.  We look forward to developing in innovative and transformative directions over the coming decades.

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