EWING — Patricia Krupinski of Elizabeth spent two weeks this summer performing community service and engaging in college-level coursework as part of the College of New Jersey’s Bonner Summer Fellows program.
From July 10 – July 24, Krupinski and 25 other students lived on campus and divided into two groups that alternatively engaged in studies, for which they received college credit, and community service in the Trenton area at Bonner community partner sites. Krupinski is a rising junior at Bishop George Ahr High School.
“The purpose of the camp [was] to leverage our facilities and staff to provide high-quality academic and service experience to the students while benefiting the college,” said William Behre, assistant vice president for Grants, Enterprise Initiatives, Summer and Off-Campus Programs. Behre developed the idea for the inaugural program.
After breakfast each day, students split into their groups, one which left the campus to do community service with Bonner Scholars, while the other attended “Political and Historical Sociology” with Diane C. Bates, associate professor and department chair of sociology and anthropology. The groups alternated after lunch and joined together in the evening to view pertinent films and discuss key social issues like poverty and joblessness, housing, education, environmental justice, and hunger in the United States.
“Every single one of them has demonstrated both a hunger to learn and a capacity to integrate new ideas and new information in innovative and thoughtful ways,” said Bates of her students. “In general, I could not be more pleased with the quality of the in-class discussions or the papers that the fellows have submitted.”
Because of the rigorous nature of the program, the college sought out students that displayed a strong desire to give back to the community in their applications.
“We were looking for students who really wanted a service experience,” said Behre. “The service was the nucleus around which everything else was built. The service really did come first.”
The application process required a transcript, a letter of recommendation, and a short essay detailing what students would bring to the program, as well as what they would hope to get out of it. In the end, 26 rising sophomores, juniors and seniors, from 21 high schools and three states (New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania) were selected.
The Bonner formula – college students working together to fulfill their community-service mission – has made TCNJ’s program one of the most successful “domestic peace corps” programs in the country. While the vast majority of the students had had some previous community service experience, with organizations such as the YMCA, Key Club, Relay for Life and the Boys and Girls Scouts of America, students and Bonner staff alike said that the experience was unique for them.
“The students have been very connected and we’ve been able to have a lot of higher-level, thought-provoking conversations,” said Maria De La Cruz ’08, a Bonner Center staff member. “At first, we thought it would be great to offer a college-level four-credit course but it became so much more than that.”
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