Colorado College has now had a Community Engaged Fellow (CEF) program for 3 years. The students selected for the program are building increasingly complex, reciprocal, and beneficial bonds with community members in the Pikes Peak Region, but they are also working to build a national community. Over the weekend of October 4th, Colorado College sent two of our Community Engaged Fellows, Sunderland Baker ’23 from Thornton, CO, and Daniel Cortes ’22 from Albuquerque, NM, to attend the National Bonner Conference held at Centre College in Danfield, Kentucky. The Community Engaged Fellows at CC follow the nationally-recognized Bonner Program Model. The conference was, as Cortes recounted “A weekend during which members of the Bonner Fellowship across the country coalesce to discuss the mission of Bonner at the national level, the plans for Bonner to continue expanding, and really solidify the value systems of the Bonner Program.” The conference was not only designed to unite the Bonner Fellowships together, but to also promote themes of social justice, allowing individuals to work on developing their communities in order to further social change.
I was curious about the details regarding the conference, so I spoke to the two Fellows who attended. While speaking with first-year Sunderland Baker, I was informed about the large community of participating schools, he explained that “All of these schools have varying levels of engagement with the Bonner Fellowship; some schools have had the program for 20 years, others like CC only 3 years.” Sophomore Daniel Cortes further elaborated on Colorado College’s relative new relationship with the Bonner Fellowship, “It’s exciting, I think my favorite part of the program was really getting a sense of the depth and breadth of the program, recognizing that CC has 25 members in total in our membership, and we’re going to max out at 40, we won’t even reach that number for 2 years, but recognizing that we’re part of a much larger organization with almost 20,000 fellows was a really mind-opening experience.”
The conference itself contained a multitude of workshops and panels for the participating fellows. “Its central theme was social justice and action, where there was an emphasis on introspection of our own beliefs, areas of privilege, social inequality, etc. to enact change in areas we are truly passionate about” recounts Baker. “There were also individual sessions, where I tended to focus on more personal and institutional aspects of social justice and leadership. I attended sessions on how educational inequality and lack of inclusion shapes student attitudes and success. However, the majority of my sessions focused on self-actualization, ways to create a healthy leadership/fellow ship climate, and how to positively negotiate with a group to get all opinions heard but work towards a common goal.”
While Baker focused on developing his leadership qualities Cortes meanwhile decided to focus on developing his financial skills. “I focused mainly on career related seminars. I wanted to develop my skills on how to engage meaningfully in this kind of work beyond college and learn how to be financially compensated for doing so. I gained a lot of resources in that regard learned about a lot of fellowship opportunities and graduate school scholarships available to help. I also learned about people doing engaged work. I really enjoyed learning about budgeting and how to approach financial planning engaged in this field of work. This one was specifically how to make ends meet which I felt was very valuable.”
Baker went on to explain, “I strongly feel that this experience was very valuable; I am accustomed to CC’s perspective on the Bonner program; it is new and emerging and we are still figuring a lot of things out. However, other schools are very well-invested and have established ways, and it was so insightful to see how they do things. I have gained a more holistic view of how various institutions view community engagement and social justice across the United States, and how nearby resources and access shape what each school can and cannot do. It begs a conversation on equity between resources that students should be afforded in college. It helped me ponder questions about educational equity and extracurricular involvement I never thought of.” To me, as it is for the CEF students, the inherent value of the National Bonner Conference is clear.
– Ben Greenly