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Community Engaged Learning (CEL) is an educational strategy that incorporates community-based experiences into courses and co-curricular activities. CEL aligns the educational and scholarly activities of TCNJ with the interests and needs of community organizations and members in order to enrich learning opportunities for TCNJ faculty and students. At TCNJ, the CELR Center develops CEL projects with community partners that incorporate service, learning, and reflection, with the goal to develop students into life-long actively engaged community members.

TCNJ uses the term “community engaged learning,” as opposed to “service learning,” because we want faculty, students, and community members to be active participants in, and co-beneficiaries of, the educational and service components of the project. Located in the communities that TCNJ is already a part of, CEL participants work in collaboration with and alongside community partners, rather than unidirectionally serving them. Furthermore, CEL aims to engage faculty, students, and community partners in the broader civic and social engagement efforts that sustain our democratic political culture. Rather than only volunteering or serving, we hope that CEL experiences will encourage all involved to become civically engaged in their communities throughout their lives.

Community Engaged Learning is a signature experience of The College of New Jersey, is supported in the College’s mission, and is incorporated into the Liberal Learning program.

First Year Community Engaged Learning

First Year Community Engaged Learning (CEL) is a graduation requirement that brings the college’s values to life, and introduces students to the culture of the campus and surrounding communities.  All First Year students are required to spend a minimum of eight hours addressing one of the unmet needs of the local or regional community. The Center for Community Engaged Learning and Research, in collaboration with TCNJ Bonner Scholars organizes the CEL program at the College and facilitates all First Year students to complete the graduation requirement. If you have any other questions, please contact the Bonner Institute at, or (609)771-2548.

How do I enroll in the First Year Community Engaged Learning?

All First Year students, regardless of their track, are enrolled in a non-credit course (IDS 103/First Year Community Engaged Learning) that appears on their transcripts. They receive a passing grade from the Bonner Institute for completing all of the requirements, which includes filling out pre- and post-surveys.To manage student participation, all First Year students are also entered into their own individual Canvas community; one for each FSP CEL project or co-curricular CEL Day. This allows CELR staff and student leaders to communicate directly with the students and faculty and post important items, such as assessment tools.

  • The Curricular Track: FSP CEL
    • Approximately 40 faculty members work with CEL staff and Bonner Scholars to integrate a CEL experience or project into their class. These are tied to a specific learning objective of the course. Through this experiential learning practice, students apply the information they learn in class directly to their service in the community and vice versa. This model, also known as service learning, has been recognized as a best-practice for civic learning and democratic action, as well as educational practices in general.
  • The Co-Curricular Track: CEL
    • During Welcome Week, all students who are not in an FSP course with a CEL component participate in Bonner-led civic engagement meetings. With their residence hall mates, students discuss the varied issues in the community and how their actions can contribute to addressing these concerns. Each floor is then assigned an issue and day, often in the spring semester, during which they learn, serve, and reflect with Bonner Scholars at a partner site in the community.

How do Students Benefit from CEL Experiences?

Data from the Pre and Post surveys provide evidence showing that students feel that they are engaged in meaningful service.  89% of students felt they made a positive contribution to the organization and/or individuals they served.  First Year students are asked to evaluate their CEL experiences, whether a co-curricular day or class-based project. The following is a sample of feedback that the Bonner Institute has been proud to receive:

  • “I liked how I finally learned how to paint and the specific techniques. I also realized how lucky I am to have a nice home and I appreciate everything I have a lot more now after seeing how underprivileged people are.”
  • “I feel like this is an excellent way to engage in our community. Trenton is a needy community and this interaction with the Rescue Mission is a great way to aid and help out with the reality of the city.”
  • “I had a great time. I really enjoyed interacting with the kids and I will definitely look into further volunteering opportunities.”
  • “It’s amazing how much fun the kids had. Keep up the good work, Bonner! This obviously does make a difference in these kids’ lives.”
  • “I felt like I was able to make a difference in just a few hours.”

How does CEL benefit the community?

The College of New Jersey via The Center for Community Engaged Learning and Research along with TCNJ Bonner Community Scholars provide capacity building to local community organizations via direct service, research, planning, and resource development.  The goal is to identify and address a range of needs and interests of the Institute’s partners by tapping into the service and community engaged learning resources on campus.

For questions regarding CEL scheduling and/or grades, please email: