Each year, 20 Davidson College students are selected from the incoming class to become Bonner Scholars.
Davidson is one of 27 Bonner Scholars programs nationwide in which students receive stipends in exchange for a commitment of social engagement during the academic year and over two summers.
Kristin Booher, 34, director of community service and the Bonner Scholars Program at Davidson College, selects and supervises the scholars. It is a position she says she cherishes.
“We were encouraged to participate in service and to spend time in reflection,” Booher said as she talks about Boston College, where she earned a degree in communications in 2002 and a master’s in higher education administration in 2006. As a freshman, Booher took a yearlong community-based learning class that combined direct service each week with a philosophy and theology course.
“That, inspired participation in other opportunities,” she said.
While in grad school, Booher volunteered with the Intersections Office (now the Center for Student Formation) that was funded by the Lilly Endowment. It was through the Lilly Foundation. that she first came to Davidson College. She joined the staff as assistant director for Lilly programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation in 2006. When the opportunity to lead the college’s Bonner Scholars program became available in 2008, Booher got the position.
“My favorite part of working with Bonners is that I get to work with them over the entire four-year span at Davidson,” Booher said. “We are able to grow together as a group as well as individually.”
Bonner Scholars receive a portion of their $17,500 scholarship each semester and over two summers of service. The also receive a stipend during their senior year for educational loans, including graduate school.
Scholars are required to log 280 service hours per academic year and complete two summers of service with a nonprofit organization.
Each student is required to remain with one organization over the course of a semester and work with them on a weekly basis.
“That allows for a much deeper connection than if they just jumped around to one-time or short-term opportunities each week,” Booher said.
Students can volunteer with established community partners, such as the LEARN Works Program at the nearby Ada Jenkins Center, or create their own opportunities.
“We’ve had students all over the world working with conservation organizations, schools, orphanages, community development and more,” Booher said.
Booher creates many opportunities, including a weekly dinner, for the scholars to share their passion about a social issue and learn from one another.
“They are all truly teachers and learners,” Booher said. “And it makes my job much more interesting and fun.”
The group also has shared service events and trips, including a spring break service trip that all freshman Bonner Scholars take together. Past trips have included working with Habitat for Humanity to build a house in Georgia and working on a farm in Asheville.
“Bonner pushes students outside their comfort zones,” Booher said. “But they also feel a part of the larger community and gain a little perspective along the way.”