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Bonner Community Scholars Spring Orientation brings Alumni, Professionals to Inspire and Share their Stories

What do you do with a group of college students on a one-day training when the political climate in the country seems so volatile? You bring an entire group of CELR Center staff and 14 guests to inspire them. That is what happened on Saturday, February 4th, at spring orientation for TCNJ’s Bonner Community Scholars . One hundred Bonner Community Scholars attended a one-day training to help them continue building their skills and knowledge as they carry on their service and leadership activities on campus and the community. Built around the themes explored in Marshall Ganz’s “Telling Your Public Story” and Bobbie Harro’s “Cycle of Socialization” and “Cycle of Liberation,” participants were provided the opportunity to meet local professionals committed to social change issues in the region.

Of the fourteen professional, six were TCNJ alumni, two were Bonner Scholar alumni, and one was an Army veteran. The presenters came from non-profit organizations, public agencies, and the business sector. In panel style presentation, three to four professionals were able to tell their public stories to class-based groups in the morning.

“Telling Your Public Story” is a practice taught by Marshall Ganz, senior lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Ganz is known for teaching union, political, and organizing skills, the same skills he cultivated when he worked with the United Farm Workers. Ganz explains “Stories not only teach us how to act – they inspire us to act. Stories communicate our values through the language of the heart, our emotions. And it is what we feel – our hopes, our cares, our obligations – not simply what we know that can inspire us with the courage to act.”

Building on Ganz’s approach, and with facilitation from the young professionals and CELR Center staff, Bonners were given the opportunity to begin thinking about their public story and how to conceptualize it in a way to help them with their current activities (whether is working towards a cause, facilitating CEL or getting ready to do a job interview).

In the afternoon, eight professionals presenters engaged in a conversation with small groups of Bonners about “critical transformation” within the context of Bobbie Harro’s “Cycle of Liberation,” a framework for individuals to understand where they are on their path to creating social change, and what skills and resources may be needed to produce the change that they want to see. Real life experience from the presenters brought the conversation to life as participants were able to discuss where they felt they were at in the cycle and ask questions.

Guest presenters were:

  • Oluwaseye Akele, BS in Engineering, Project Engineer at Maser Consulting
  • Carol Almonte, JD, Mental Health Attorney
  • Justin Braz, BA in Sociology, Chief of Staff at Assemblyman Gary Schaer 36th Legislative District
  • Terrell Blount, MPA, Program Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections at Vera Institute of Justice
  • Johanna Calle, M.A. Criminal Justice / Political Science, Program Coordinator for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, TCNJ Alumna
  • Alyssa Fountain, BA in Women and Gender Studies, Business Development Officer for Recovery Centers of America, TCNJ Alumna
  • Petra Gaskins, BA Political Science and Government, Global Studies, Congressional Staff at U.S. House of Representatives for Bonnie Watson-Coleman
  • Tamara Ibezim, BS in Business, Assistant Vice President | GWIM Compliance at Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, TCNJ Alum, Bonner Community Scholar Alumna
  • Peter Jacob, LSW, MSW, Social Worker & Former Candidate for U.S. House of Representatives (NJ-7)
  • Carolina Londono, BA Mathematics, 7th & 8th grade bilingual math teacher at Plainfield Public Schools, Army Veteran
  • Brandon McKoy, MA in Public Planning, Policy Analyst at NJ Policy Perspective, TCNJ Alumnus
  • Xavier Rodriguez, BA in Social Work, Junior Research Scientist at NYU
  • Todd Stoner, BA in Political Science, Organizer at SEIU, TCNJ Alum, Bonner Community Scholar Alumnus
  • Katie Tedesco, M.S. Ed, Teacher Leadership Development for Teach for America, TCNJ & WILL Alumna

Lunch allowed for networking and connection, while students enjoyed food from a local restaurant. Many of the Bonner Scholars found the morning conversations insightful and powerful, and jumped at the opportunity to connect to presenters.

Rosemary Nivar, Junior Bonner Scholar wrote on her Facebook post “I’ve always said Bonner opens doors but today I really want to say that Bonner opens minds. I was in a group in which we had a discussion on our public life stories and the discussion in my group was led by a man who served in prison for 6 years and is back in college for his masters and currently works for a center on sentencing and corrections to advocate and work towards justice for inmates. His story was truly inspiring and different. And overall, all the workshops today really refreshed my mind and has me pumped to serve the community!”

Emily Adcock, a senior Bonner Scholar, sent a note to staff soon after the training stating that the training “was a great opportunity to learn about all of the journeys young professionals are taking to make a positive impact on the communities we live in. As my last orientation of my Bonner career, I could not have asked for a better way to round out my senior year.” Two other Bonner Scholars shared that they felt “empowered” and “ready” when asked for a one-word feeling description to the end of the day.

Bonners will continue meeting as a group on a weekly basis and will serve at local non-profit organizations through the semester. They will also work with projects connected to Community Engaged Learning, a signature experience at the college.

TCNJ Bonner Community Scholars, housed in the Bonner Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at TCNJ’s Center for Community Engaged Learning and Research, provides scholarship support to more than 100 students who participate in a student development program while giving back to their communities through community service and capacity building. Part of the Bonner Foundation’s national network of Bonner schools, TCNJ’s Bonner Community Scholars program completed its 11th year at TCNJ in 2016. For more information, see