Bonner program searches for new director

By Elizabeth Zakaim, Joe Bracco and Karina Pedraza
News Editor, Correspondent and Staff Writer

The Bonner Program held three forums as part of its search for a new director in the Education Building Room 115 on April 4, April 6 and April 10.

The first forum featured candidate Loretta Mooney, the second featured candidate Stephanie Shanklin, and the final forum featured candidate Robert Simmons.

As a trained clinician with a master’s degree in social work, Mooney has experience as a counselor working with oppressed populations. She gained experience as an administrator in higher education while working as an adjunct professor at Rutgers University-Camden at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

She sees herself as a collaborative leader, eager to gaining student perspectives on the program’s function.

“I think a vision has to come from, ‘what do the students want, what does the faculty want?’” she said. “Once we come together I’m very good at following through on a vision.”

Mooney also has prior experience working as a Bonner coordinator at Widener University. During her six years at the institution, she oversaw the development of 60 Bonner students in her program.

Shanklin shares her ideas to improve the Bonner Program. (Kim Iannarone / Staff Photographer)

Mooney helped change the way Bonner functioned at Widener. The school originally used a charity model for community service. While this model offered direct forms of community service and volunteering, Bonner Community Scholars found that they were not making much of an impact on the areas they worked in, often leaving the community the same way they found it, Mooney explained.

Mooney said she decided to adapt a social justice model, similar to the Bonner Program at the College, which finds and changes the root causes of problems, such as bringing a supermarket to a food desert. Bonner Community Scholars work with residents to figure out the specific needs of each community.

“The goal is sustainability,” Mooney said. “I bring a lot of passion for change, development and bringing people together.”

Mooney aims to be a transformative and transparent leader, a quality some of the students attending the forum admired. Most students felt that Mooney had a maternal quality about her, and could see her passion for the program.

“If she’s hired I think she’ll bring transparent leadership –– that’s something that the program struggles with,” said Jason Miles, a junior mathematics major. “I think we need somebody who’s really about it.”

In terms of her vision for her students, Mooney hopes to see her potential scholars become role models, leaders and agents of social change as they excel through the Bonner Program during their time at the College.

Underclassmen in the Bonner Program will gain experience exploring service sites and developing community service skills. Upperclassmen will be qualified enough to serve as an example for other volunteers and, by senior year, Bonner scholars will have gained expertise in their area of service, which will be evidenced by their senior capstone projects.

The second candidate, Stephanie Shanklin, was a former assistant director of the Educational Opportunity Fund Program at her alma mater Rutgers-Camden. She received her Ph.D. in higher education leadership in 2016 from Wilmington University.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in urban studies and community planning from Rutgers and a master’s degree in administrative science from Fairleigh Dickinson University, Shanklin went on to work for the EOF and eventually became its assistant director.

Shanklin emphasized the goals she wanted to achieve if elected as Bonner director. She said she wants to help her students succeed, help them recognize their obligation to give a voice to students who aren’t always heard and provide opportunities to students who haven’t always been given a chance.

“Don’t shy away from challenges,” Shanklin said. “Challenges are going to happen, but it doesn’t mean that you get to not meet your goals or expectations. It doesn’t mean you quit. It doesn’t mean you give up.”

Shanklin said she would enhance engaged learning in her students, which in turn increases their productivity when they become part of the workforce.

“The Bonner program is important because it provides individual help to students academically,” said Serina Grasso, a senior psychology major. “We are consistent figures in their life –– we become not only their teachers, but their mentors.”

In his forum, Robert Simmons emphasized the relationship between the community and social justice, and how both should equally influence each other.

Simmons also vocalized the need to increase the relevance between students’ curriculum and community organizations in the area. He suggested connecting students from various disciplines — such as law, STEM and business — with non-profits and local organizations during their capstone experience.

Simmons has been greatly impacted by his native Trentonian roots and his personal experiences with shelters and churches in the Trenton area.

“I learned very early the impact that community engagement has on people,” Simmons said. “Then I started thinking about leadership and what peer leadership would look like.”

Simmons currently works at Smith College with identity-based campus clubs. His previous work experience includes an internship at the Foundation Academy Charter School, where he created a program called Far Out that partnered with Rutgers University-New Brunswick to bring in children and connect them with faculty.

Simmons’ time at Rutgers also included leadership with the university’s original Bonner Program and his work with issues such as hunger and homelessness. After he left Rutgers, Simmons began his work with AmeriCorps VISTA fellows, with a focus on social justice and education.

His vision for the Bonner Program includes the desire to equip scholars with service and self-learning opportunities that he deems necessary to engage the community.

“Not just for a project, not just for eight hours or four years, or 300 hundred hours,” Simmons said. “We are building them to want to do this for a lifetime.”

Simmons’ objectives for the Bonner Program and its connection to the Trenton community include youth empowerment and the use of technology in civically-engaged work.

Simmons placed great emphasis around individual identity, the students’ relationship with the local community and social justice issues. He said he wants the Bonner Community Scholars to realize their interests in the community and ask themselves, “Who am I and how can who I am influence the work I do?”