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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 1,400 First Year students are required to spend a minimum of 8 hours addressing one of the unmet needs of the local or regional community. The Bonner Center organizes the CEL program at TCNJ  and mobilizes all First Year students complete the graduation requirement.DSC07011

There are two tracks within this program:

  1. Curricular Track that includes students and professors working together as part of their FSP (First Year Seminar Program) course.
  2. Co-curricular Track that organizes students by their residences and areas of interest.


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 Center for completing all of the requirements, which includes completing pre and post surveys.

To manage student participation, all First Year students are also entered into their own individual SOCs community; one for each FSP CEL project or co-curricular CEL Day. This allows Bonner Center staff and student leaders to communicate directly with the students (and professor) and post important items–such as the assessment tools or ‘grade the day’ forms.


The Curricular Track: FSP CEL

Approximately 40 professors work with Center 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 experience, 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. You can find some class based project summaries in our Class Projects section here.


The Co-Curricular Track: CEL

During Welcome Week, all students who are not in an FSP-CEL course participate in Bonner-led ‘civic engagement floor meetings’.  With their residence mates, they pick their issue and CEL Day, during which they learn, serve and reflect with Bonner Scholars at one of their partner sites.

Summaries of co-curricular CEL Days can be found here.


First-Year Students’ Reflections

First-year students are asked to evaluate their CEL day experiences. The following is a sample of feedback that the Bonner Center has been proud to receive. For more information of the positive impact CEL Days has on students, please click here.

“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 wouldn’t change anything.”

“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.”