Bonner Scholars gathered during a meeting

Bonner Program: A Look at its Roots

In the fall of 1990, the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation began recognizing students who demonstrated the ability to succeed both in the classroom of their colleges and in the communities beyond those classrooms. To promising students whose economic situations ordinarily demanded that they spend their out of class hours and summer months raising money to meet college expenses, the Bonner Foundation awarded scholarships and provided other practical support.

The Bonner Scholars Program is based on the premise that young people care about others, and given the opportunity, will become active and involved in the local community. It is also based on the understanding that college students have a unique and important contribution to make to our society.

The Program was initiated at Berea College in Kentucky during the 1990-91 academic years. In the following year, the program expanded to 12 campuses and 750 students before growing to 22 schools and approximately 1,500 students during 1992-93. The Bonner Program currently encompasses 25 colleges and universities.

With the basics in place at these schools, the Bonner Foundation then endowed the Bonner Scholars Program at seven schools--Berry College, Concord College, Davidson College, DePauw University, Emory & Henry College, Spelman College, and the University of Richmond.

These gifts, worth $35.67 million, were in turn matched by $7.25 million appropriated by the schools themselves. In all, nearly $43 million was set aside to guarantee support in perpetuity to 580 Bonner Scholars annually. The remaining 15 Bonner Schools and approximately 1,000 Bonner Scholars continue to be funded each year from the Bonner Foundation's endowment as well as from each college's scholarship or operating funds.

All colleges in the program operate under a set of broad guidelines, and each has developed a Bonner Scholars Program that meets the needs of its student body and the unique culture of its campus. The Bonner Foundation staff believed from the beginning that the participating colleges' presidents, administrators, faculty, and most particularly Bonner Scholars should lead their program's development and have an important voice in the national program's direction.

Since 1994, the Bonner Scholars Program has organized bi-annual "summits," which gather scholars, coordinators, community leaders, faculty, and presidents to discuss a wide range of issues. This meeting, which brings together representatives from all parts of a campus community, is unique in the service and higher education field.

Wofford Bonner Scholars have taken a strong leadership role in the Spartanburg and Wofford College communities. The Bonners are constantly meeting the needs of the community by launching programs that provide aid for community programs and initiatives. Wofford Bonners work to tutor children, teach the physically disabled to swim, run after school programs, become companions to elderly people, become mentors to emotionally disturbed children and youths, and to build homes with Habitat for Humanity. The opportunities for service are only limited by the number of people who need to be served. The opportunities for reaching out to others are endless.