Active members of the community, Michael Austerlitz ’10 and Clifford Gardner ’10, recently conducted a workshop on Race, Class and Gender at the Bonner Conference at the University of Richmond, Virginia. Bonner Leaders, such as Austerlitz and Gardner, are part of a movement of students dedicated to service. The workshop, according to Gardner, was “All about the ability to diversify minds” and it “looked to define these social constructs.” Both students considered the event a success as it allowed for open dialogue between Bonner Leaders from all over the country.
The Bonner Foundation started in 1990 through an endowment of Corella and Bertrum Bonner. The Bonner model allows for students to develop their leadership skills through a four-year process, going from simply volunteering, to leading their peers in civic engagement. The culmination of the four years is enacting policy and community-based research projects while also leading peers in endeavors to help their communities. Since its inception, the Foundation has developed Bonner Scholar and Bonner Leader schools through grants from AmeriCorps, the schools’ federal work study programs and other grant opportunities. With Bonner Scholar and Bonner Leader schools, there are now more than 80 participating Bonner Schools nationwide with around 3,000 students. Conferences are known as “Bonner Congress” where two or three students from each Bonner school attend.
“We learn from each other, listening to what each school does, and we take advice from Wayne Meisel, the president of the Foundation,” explains Austerlitz, a history major and critical social studies minor. The conference also entails workshops by students and faculty that range from Bonner 101 to serious issues by national partners such as RESULTS, an anti-poverty lobbying group located in Washington D.C. “Bonner has such an extensive network and such good ties with national and international organizations that it is the perfect networking tool for students.”
Katie Flowers, associate director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning (CCESL), says Austerlitz and Gardner are assets to HWS and their leadership has positively impacted the campus and Geneva community. “The workshop they presented at the Bonner Conference at the University of Richmond is an example of their impressive ability to bring people together to discuss vital gender, race and economic issues that impact the college student experience, ” she says.
Austerlitz’s role in the Bonner program started at Middlesex County College in N.J., where he was a student before transferring to HWS. At first, he performed service at a soup kitchen as well as an elementary school in New Brunswick. From there, he began to take on leadership roles, completing 300 hours of AmeriCorps service in his first year. The second year, he was given the position of co-coordinator of the program and completed 900 hours. Austerlitz helped the College’s director of the Bonner program with the 30 students that were involved, gave workshops at national conferences and directed service at the local soup kitchen and one of the elementary schools.
From there, Austerlitz became an intern at the Bonner Foundation for two summers, where he worked on training and leadership skills for the national Bonner network. This past summer, he conducted extensive policy research on homelessness. He continued his Bonner work at HWS, where he is now the Senior Bonner Intern. Austerlitz leads the six Bonners here in their service and leadership work, including those in charge of America Reads, Service Learning, and other programs. Austerlitz also coordinates the Community Lunch Program downtown for Thursdays throughout October and November.
A history major and peace studies minor, Gardner has been a Bonner for three years, and is the last original Bonner at HWS. This year, he is working with Arlene Francis and the Boys and Girls Club Teen Center.
“I wish the college students of my hometown would have been as involved as some members of the HWS Community. I just want to give them the feeling that someone out there does genuinely care about them and their futures,” he says. His work is aimed at giving them skills in the classroom, college-decision making help and strategies that, he says, will “further give them the experience that I, myself, and many of my peers never had. Building a better future is all about trying to put the global citizens of tomorrow in better situations than you are in today.”