Bonner Community Scholars: Combining student interests  and community needs
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Bonner Community Scholars: Combining student interests and community needs

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You probably saw their yard sale this fall — but what are Bonner Scholars really about?

“We all share some of the same vision for what we want the world to be … when we come together, there’s just something really comfortable,” Nygan Nguyen ’17 said.

Bonner Scholars is a four-year commitment program for students to earn their work-study through off-campus employment at various non-profits.

“The mission of the Bonner Foundation is access to education and opportunity to serve, and all Bonner Scholars across the nation are really seen as change agents in how they can impact social change on their campus, their community and beyond,” Ruth Janisch Lake, one of the two Bonner advisors, said.

Bonner’s six values are diversity, social justice, international perspective, spiritual exploration, civic engagement and community building. The first year in Macalester’s Bonner program is always spent focused on education, so students volunteer at elementary and middle schools in the Twin Cities. The remaining three years, students choose from over 35 organizations, finding a way to combine their interests with community needs. Some students choose to continue working in education, while others move to organizations including Family Tree Clinic, Breakthrough Twin Cities and Neighborhood House.

Bonner is a national program; over 50 schools in the U.S. have a version. Macalester’s program selects twelve incoming first-year students through an application process, who are then involved all four years of college. First-generation college students in particular are encouraged to apply. Selected students go through pre-orientation for Bonner before first-year orientation begins and are able to connect with each other before meeting the rest of their class.

Sedric McClure, Macalester’s second Bonner advisor said, “We want students to be able to engage in the community … but we also want to pay attention to how they develop as a community [of students].”

Mentors are important resource for Bonner scholars, helping them develop their courses of study as well as their community involvement.

Jessica Timerman ’17 said, “We get so much support from the faculty … that’s just really nice to have other people on campus who care about you and are there to help you.”

This J-Term, the first-year Bonners will travel to New Orleans for a week-long service trip. It’s a key part of the Bonner experience at Macalester.

Macalester has sent students to New Orleans for ten years, beginning after Hurricane Katrina. McClure and Janisch Lake have been involved with the program since its inception at Macalester eight years ago, and Bonner each year has sent students to New Orleans. The trip is organized around three themes: education, community and cultural survival.

McClure and Janisch Lake pointed out that it was very common for colleges, church groups and other organizations to be engaged with cleanup and assistance in the years immediately following Hurricane Katrina, but that few are still involved with communities there. The work Macalester and Bonner Scholars has done has evolved over the years. Initially, volunteers were primarily involved with mucking out houses that had flooded and doing other cleanup work. Now Bonner Scholars are engaged in education, food justice and environmental sustainability while working with partner organizations in New Orleans.

While the New Orleans trip promotes the value of connecting student empowerment and community engagement, it often makes students reflect on posititionality,.

Tracy Pham ’18 said that the trip made her think about “what can we do as students, and what can’t we do as students.”

As Bonner Scholars, students reflect frequently on their volunteer work, both in New Orleans and the Twin Cities.

Xing Gao ’17 said that the New Orleans trip was eye-opening; it taught her not to change a community as an outsider, but rather to listen what community members want to accomplish, and empower them to make changes for themselves.

The Bonner program at Macalester isn’t often on the campus radar in the way of events, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t busy.

Janisch Lake said, “When I look across campus and I consider all the amazing opportunities that Macalester has, there are very few that are an eight to ten hour a week commitment for four years.”
Pham said, “I’m so grateful that I have this … I was hit with all these great opportunities.”

December 4, 2015

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