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Community Engaged Learning

There are four important facts regarding community engaged learning at TCNJ:

  • It is a mission driven activity;
  • It is a key part of the College’s Liberal Learning program;
  • It adopts a developmental approach for students; and
  • It follows a capacity-building model with its partners.

Mission Driven

All of the College’s CEL activities and programs are directly tied to TCNJ’s official mission. It reminds us that an excellent education often calls for us to explore and examine the world beyond the campus; where we can more often participate in discussions and engage in experiences that are truly transformative. These experiences are even more profound and impactful when we have opportunities to learn while we work with others to make a positive difference in our communities, applying our knowledge and skills to some of society’s most pressing problems as well as challenges.

Liberal Learning

TCNJ also believes that educated and enlightened individuals must participate in a series of experiences that promote their scholarly growth, broaden their knowledge of all sectors of human inquiry, and emphasizes civic responsibility; these are the three pillars of general education. As part of their Liberal Learning education, TCNJ students “should understand how to accept responsibility for active and engaged citizenship in a complex and diverse society.” Getting involved is embedded throughout the curriculum.

A Developmental Approach for Students

The CEL program is divided into two levels, First Year CEL and Advanced CEL, enabling students to progress along a continuum from awareness, to understanding, to application. To start, all First Year students are required in to participate in a meaningful service experience during their first year on campus. The goal is that all will return and participate in more advanced class-based projects during their final three undergraduate years. For more information on the link between learning and community engagement, see the article by Ariane Hoy of the Bonner Foundation “High-Impact Learning and High-Impact Community Engagement” in the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Democracy & Diversity journal.

Capacity-Building for Community Partners

Finally, the Bonner Institute and Bonner Community Scholars enter into comprehensive partnerships with local community organizations. 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. This includes direct service, research, planning, and resource development, among others.

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. 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 Bonner Institute for Civic and Community Engagement organizes the CEL program at the College and mobilizes all First Year students to complete the graduation requirement.

There are two tracks within this program:

  1. Curricular Track – includes students and professors working together as part of their First Year Seminar Program (FSP) course.
  2. Co-curricular Track – organizes students by their residences and areas of interest to complete an eight-hour day of service.

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 Bonner Institute 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 Bonner Institute staff and 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. Class-based project summaries can be found on our Class Projects page. For information on upcoming FSP courses that will include a CEL component, visit the FSP Courses page.

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 floor meetings. With their residence mates, students choose an issue that peaks their interest, such as hunger, education, homelessness, the environment, or developmental disabilities. The students select a day in the course of the academic year, during which they learn, serve, and reflect with Bonner Scholars at a partner site in the community.

Summaries of co-curricular CEL Days can be found on the FY Community Engaged Learning Days page.

First Year Students’ Reflections

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. For more information on the positive impact CEL Days has on students, visit our Student Impact page.

“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.”