Because of its reputation for public service and community-engaged learning, Montclair State University, in partnership with the Bonner Foundation, hosted some 400 administrators, faculty, staff and student Bonner leaders of 75 universities from around the country this week for the Bonner Summer Leadership Institute, focusing on strategies for community-engaged learning, public service and civic leadership.
This year’s theme “Together Towards Tomorrow: Juntos Lo Logramos” is a nod to Montclair’s status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and highlights the idea that “… as the Bonner national network, we can work together to build a better and more equitable future for the hundreds of communities we serve,” according to the program.
The Bonner Summer Leadership Institute kicked off with local and national leaders sharing their thoughts on public service and the importance of civic engagement – as well as showing students pathways to careers in public service.
New Jersey State Senator Nellie Pou, the first Latina elected to represent the 35th Legislative District, which includes Paterson, was an opening keynote speaker and said this year’s theme “speaks volumes about the importance of unity and community as central to advancing social change and equity in education and opportunity for a brighter and more hopeful future.”
She thanked Bonner and University leaders for being vital partners to the area’s local communities. “…Community, unity, equity, opportunity – these words all sound a lot alike, and they share a single cause – which is that we, as a society, make more progress when we work, think and act together, not always with one mind but in striving for a common purpose.”
Montclair State University President Jonathan Koppell, who has made public service a hallmark of his career and expanded the University’s work in nearby cities like Paterson, said he considers it an ethical obligation for universities to partner with communities to find answers to pressing problems.
“Why should universities do this?” he asked. “Because it’s the right thing to do. And because we have a public responsibility to do so.”
In addition to that, he said, students are more engaged in learning when they are using what they’ve learned in the classroom to solve real-life problems. “So yes, it’s part of the ethical obligation of a university to make a difference in the community. And it’s also, as it turns out, part of our educational mission to provide opportunities for students to learn.”
Koppell and Associate Vice President for Community Partnerships Bryan Murdock highlighted such community-led partnerships as The Charles L. Muth Museum at the revitalized Hinchliff Stadium and One Square Mile as examples of collaborations that help both the community and Montclair students. The University received a $5 million gift from alumnus Chuck Muth ’77 and his wife, Laura, to work with Paterson schools to operate the museum and learning center that will highlight the history of Negro League Baseball and the stadium’s legacy as a cultural touchstone. The University’s One Square Mile initiative, also in Paterson, is resourced with a $1 million Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation grant to help turn Eastside High School into a University-assisted community school as part of a comprehensive community development program.
“It’s just the beginning of a generational commitment,” Murdock said.
Montclair State University is also focused on issues of global importance that benefit from local community involvement. University benefactor Mimi Feliciano along with Ali Boak, director of the Global Center on Human Trafficking, told attendees how the Global Center works locally, including a program in Paterson, to help prevent human trafficking – a growing problem in New Jersey, the United States and worldwide.
“I really do believe you can make a difference,” said Feliciano, the Global Center’s founder and member of its board, “and your generation can do something that will have an impact.”
The Bonner Program challenges and supports students to take their passion for service and continue to provide service throughout college. As Bonner Leaders at Montclair State University, students:
– Devote at least 8 to 10 hours of service each week;
– Commit to a four-year internship program throughout their undergraduate career that focus on community building, diversity and inclusion, civic engagement, social justice, international perspective, and spiritual exploration;
– Serve in schools, nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies to address identified needs and to resolve issues involving education, safety, housing, food insecurity, youth development and environmental sustainability;
– Participate in trainings, in-service workshops, conferences, orientations, retreats, research, reflections, leadership roles, direct client service, capacity building, social action, and a senior presentation of learning;
– Develop specific skills involving civic agency and identity, critical thinking and perspective taking, communication, diversity and intercultural competence, empathy, integrative learning, leadership, place-and-issue knowledge and social justice;
– Receive a stipend and are eligible to apply and receive a scholarship for every year of service they complete.
For more information on Montclair State’s Bonner Program visit the Center for Community Involvement’s website.
To learn more about the national Bonner Program, visit its website.
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