Bonner Center

Community-Based Learning and Research

The Bonner Center supports Oberlin College & Conservatory faculty, students, and staff interested in integrating experiential opportunities that meet academic goals and who want to pursue research that addresses community-expressed needs in Oberlin and beyond.

The concept of “community” is defined broadly to include areas immediately neighboring the college and conservatory (Oberlin, Lorain and Cuyahoga Counties, and greater Northeast Ohio) but also extends to national and international partnerships with non-profit organizations, NGOs, and government and public sector agencies. Academic community-based learning may include direct service projects or be theoretical or methodological in nature, such as a foundational or introductory course that focuses on the ethics or methods of effective community engagement. 

Community-Based Learning (CBL) at Oberlin is a pedagogy in which faculty collaborate with community partners to identify community needs and goals and integrate these, through community-based research or class projects, into the academic goals of a course for the mutual benefit of the partner and the student. The CBL course designation indicates that the course has a community-engaged component based on the following criteria:

  • The instructor and the community partner/s identify a community need and agree upon mutually beneficial goals that are appropriate for student engagement and learning.
  • The instructor develops course learning goals that provide students with mentorship and skills necessary to succeed in a community-based learning experience.
  • The course structure is based on sound CBL pedagogical practices that include meaningful, reciprocal, and direct student interactions with the community partner/s, and address a community need or goal. 
  • The instructor develops assessment mechanisms that include written or verbal student reflection, as well as direct feedback from the community partner/s (and served population when appropriate).

The center offers resources in support of community-based learning (CBL) and community-based research (CBR) pedagogies and methodologies.

For a list of Community-Based Learning Courses being offered in Academic Year 2022-23, refer to the Course Catalog.

Faculty at Oberlin teach more than 40 community-based learning courses each year. CBL courses at Oberlin have covered the environmental challenges many communities face and the ways in which social, political, and economic factors drive decision making; another course explored the conceptual and historical models of disability and the role of science in helping us understand disability. A course for artist-teachers examined strategies for teaching in diverse settings, alternative forms of music-making experiences, and current trends in music education. These and other community-based learning courses give faculty additional opportunities to teach and pursue research in areas of interest while addressing the expressed needs of the community. 

The Bonner Center director is available for individual consultation with faculty interested in developing community partnerships and maintains a bibliography of resources to support faculty in best practices and methods of CBL/R. Contact Thom Dawkins, Director of the Bonner Center. 

The Bonner Center's Faculty Fellowship program supports members of the faculty contributing to Community-Based Learning and Research (CBL/R) at Oberlin College & Conservatory in collaboration with local, national, and international communities. In addition to developing an individual course or project, the Fellow will help expand and deepen understanding among the campus community about best practices and models of CBL/R and encourage Oberlin faculty to think creatively with community partners as co-educators about how CBL/R can support student learning. The Bonner Community-Based Learning/Research Fellowship is open to members of the teaching faculty of the college and conservatory who hold continuing appointments. Both individual and collaborative projects are eligible for support.

The CBL/R Faculty Fellow for the 2022-23 Academic Year is Professor of History Renee Romano, who is developing a new Community-Based Learning class on Lorain County African American History (to be offered in Spring 2023) in collaboration with Jeanine Donaldson OC '75, founder of the Lorain County Racial Equity Center and Executive Director of the Elyria YWCA. The course will count toward the new Public Humanities Integrative Concentration.

The CBL/R Faculty Fellow for the 2021-22 Academic Year was Professor of Cinema Studies, Geoff Pingree, for his work establishing The Groundwater Project in coordination with the creation of Lorain County’s new Racial Equity Center. Professor Pingree's production company StoryLens ( seeks to tell the story of Lorain County through a lens of racial equity. StoryLens, with the support of community partners, is gathering oral histories of Black residents in Lorain County. These histories and other archival materials (such as personal photographs, news articles, letters, etc.) will be compiled in a publicly accessible database. The Groundwater Project team has begun coordinating and conducting interviews with the help of Oberlin College students and members of the local community. Drawing on the oral histories and archival materials and on additional visual resources from Lorain County residents, StoryLens will produce a single feature-length documentary film or a series of short documentary films that will explore the history of race in Lorain County over the past 100 years.

The CBL/R Faculty Fellow for the 2019-20 Academic Year was Abby Aresty, Technical Director & Lecturer, TIMARA, for her Music Technology for Social Change project being developed in partnership with Oberlin Center for the Arts (OCA). OCA is an organization that brings arts programming to student learners PK-12th grade, that supports the educators working with these students, and that works with artists and local institutions in Lorain County to develop programming efforts that impact the public of all ages and interests. Through the partnership with OCA, students will bring innovative music technology workshops and programming—with an emphasis on interdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) activities—to members of all of the communities that OCA serves.

The CBL/R Faculty Fellow for the 2018-19 Academic Year was Jody Kerchner, Professor of Music Education & Director, Division of Pedagogy, Advocacy, and Community Engagement for her Oberlin Music at Grafton (OMAG) project. In Professor Kerchner's course PACE 220 "Arts Behind Bars" Students encounter models of arts programs offered for people who are often overlooked—those who are incarcerated. An overview of general political, philosophical, and societal issues relative to incarceration in the United States and globally will lead to the consideration of access to arts education in prisons as acts of activism. Primary readings include research on the effects of arts education access for those incarcerated and the ways the arts have the potential to transform and inform us of our common humanity. This is a community-based learning course that includes students assisting with and or implementing arts education experiences for people who are incarcerated in Lorain County. Volunteer training at the prisons is mandatory for the CBL portion of this course.

The CBL/R Faculty Fellow for the 2017-18 Academic Year was Katherine Thomson-Jones, Associate Professor of Philosophy, for her Philosophy in the Schools project. The Philosophy in the Schools (PHITS) practicum gives students a new community-engaged way to develop their philosophical skills and understanding, by teaching philosophy through children’s literature. Students make 8 weekly visits to Eastwood Elementary School, working in pairs to lead lively philosophical discussions. The rest of the course is taken up with preparation for and reflection on these visits.

For more information about the Community Based Learning/Research (CBL/R) Faculty Fellowship Program, contact Thom Dawkins, Bonner Center Director.

History Design Lab Institute January 6-7, 2020, at Oberlin College StudiOC

More than 70 people participated in the two-day institute which focused on public humanities and community-based research, including college and conservatory students, faculty, and staff doing on-campus individual and group projects, as well as community partners representing the Oberlin Heritage Center, El Centro de Servicios Sociales, Lorain Historical Society, Oberlin African American Genealogy and History Group, Oberlin High School Faculty, and the Coalition for Oberlin History. The program combined presentations, workshops, and consultations with targeted attention to three historical research projects, each of which connects to a course:

  • The Shirley Graham Du Bois Project: HIST 221 and ETHN 216 - The Student as Artist and Intellectual - Tamika Nunley
  • The Latina/o/x Oral Histories of Northeast Ohio Project: CAST 335 - Latinx Oral Histories - Gina Perez & Adrian Bautista
  • The Remembering Oberlin Public Schools (ROPS)/”Harvesting School Stories” public history project: HIST 214 - Oberlin Oral History: Community-Based Learning & Research Practicum - Tania Boster

In addition to fundamentally advancing the work of these three research projects the targeted consultation sessions for each project were open to individual institute participants who are not affiliated with these projects to listen and learn about public history research methods.

Featured Speakers:

Liz Strong (OC ‘09), Obama Presidency Oral History Project, Columbia University

Brooke Bryan, Oral History in the Liberal Arts, Great Lakes Colleges Association & Antioch College 

Megan Mitchell, Academic Engagement & Digital Initiatives Coordinator, Oberlin College Libraries

Organized by: Tamika Nunley, History Department and Tania Boster, Bonner Center, GLTC, History Department

Sponsored by: Bonner Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Teaching, & Research; Oberlin College History Department; Gertrude B. Lemle Teaching Center; History Design Lab 

Past Workshops

December 16-17, 2018 -- Kristin Norris, Director of Assessment, Office of Community Engagement, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis visit to Oberlin College

As higher education is seeing greater value placed on public scholarship and the role of colleges and universities in contributing to the public good, Kristin Norris’s visit was designed to facilitate broader support of this work at Oberlin. Norris facilitated conversations with staff and faculty from across the institution to help us consider the processes and policies that would support a shift to a full-institution commitment to community, and led a presentation framing community engagement as a strategy to operationalize Oberlin’s mission and goals. A generative discussion followed about the assessment of community-based learning; the parameters of what is designated as “community engagement”; rewards, recognition, and promotion and tenure policies that support community-engaged teaching and research practices.

Thursday March 8, 2018, 4:30-6:30 pm -- Faculty Workshop on Critical Community-Based Learning Pedagogy with Dr. Tania Mitchell, University of Minnesota

What distinguishes Traditional from Critical Community-Based Learning pedagogy (CBL, also known as service-learning)? While individual reflection and student development are desired outcomes of both, critical CBL balances learning outcomes with an emphasis on social change. Critical CBL practitioners interrogate systems and structures of inequality, question the distribution of power, and seek to develop authentic relationships among students, faculty, and community partners (Mitchell 2008).  

In this workshop led by Dr. Tania Mitchell, a leading researcher and practitioner of critical service-learning and one of the most innovative thinkers in the field, participants will discuss CBL as a critical pedagogy to explore civic identity, social justice, student learning and development, race and racism, and community practice. Faculty will be exposed to new tools and practical examples of how to implement critical CBL in ways that build ongoing relationships and reciprocal partnerships between campus and community co-educators and prepare and engage students in meaningful work with the community. This workshop will guide participants to reflect on their own practices, learn with and from colleagues, and take away tools that will support the development of more equitable CBL partnerships. This workshop is suited for faculty who have no immediate plans to teach a CBL course but are interested in exploring this theory and pedagogy, and for seasoned practitioners.

Tania D. Mitchell is an associate professor of higher education in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development. She has published and presented extensively on critical service-learning. Her visit is sponsored by the Bonner Center for Service & Learning.

February 25, 2017 -- Faculty Workshop on Community-Based Learning (CBL) pedagogy and scholarship with featured speaker Albert Camarillo, Stanford University

Program Description: The Dean of Arts and Sciences and the Bonner Center hosted College and Conservatory faculty from all ranks and disciplines in a half-day Saturday workshop on Community-Based Learning with keynote speaker Albert Camarillo, Professor Emeritus, Stanford, and a panel of Oberlin College and Conservatory faculty (Rumi Shammin, Pam Brooks, Jennifer Fraser, Carol Lasser, Louise Zeitlin, and Gina Perez) who have taught CBL courses. Bonner Center staff highlighted current opportunities for collaboration with community partners around a range of issues and additional support for faculty interested in CBL (such as internal funding, future trainings, and individual consultations with Bonner Center staff).

About the Guest Speaker: Albert Camarillo, Miriam and Peter Haas Centennial Professor in Public Service, Leon Sloss Jr. Memorial Professor of American History, Special Assistant to the Provost for Faculty Diversity, Stanford -- Al Camarillo was appointed to the faculty in the Department of History at Stanford University in 1975 after receiving his Ph.D. from UCLA. He has published and co-edited eight books and over three dozen articles dealing with the experiences of Mexican Americans and other racial and immigrant groups in American cities. He is widely regarded as one of the founders of the field of Mexican American history and Chicano Studies. Over the course of his career, Camarillo has received many awards and fellowships. Fellowships include a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship and a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship; he was also a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, The Huntington Library, and at the Stanford Humanities Center. His awards for teaching and service at Stanford are numerous. He is the only faculty member in the history of Stanford University to receive the six highest awards for excellence in teaching, service to undergraduate education and Stanford alumni, and university-related public service. Camarillo, the architect of the public service track in History at Stanford, brings both academic expertise and practical experience to community-based learning. For years he taught a course on homelessness and poverty that required community service that is often cited as a model for service-learning programs.

May 18, 2017 -- Professional Development Workshop on Community-Based Teaching and Learning

In this half-day, hands-on, interactive workshop instructors brought their course proposals and/or syllabi to create a Community-Based Learning (CBL) course or revise an existing course to include a CBL component. Participants in the workshop developed concrete plans for integrating CBL into their particular course content. Guest facilitator Marshall Welch worked with the group on concepts and practices including: engaged pedagogy and scholarship, collaborating with community partners as co-educators, intercultural humility and cultural competency, framing CBL for tenure and promotion, and assessing student learning and community impact. College and conservatory faculty participated in the workshop of various ranks and from the following departments: History, Music Education/PACE, Dance, French & Italian, Biology, Cinema Studies, Jewish Studies, and the First-Year Seminar Program. Please see below for the participant survey results.

About the guest speaker: Marshall Welch has published several scholarly articles on civic engagement and most recently authored the book  Engaging Higher Education: Purpose, Platforms, and Programs (2016). He also coedited New Perspective in Service-Learning: Research to Advance the Field. Welch serves on the board of the International Association of Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE). He has served as the Assistant Vice Provost for Engagement at Saint Mary’s College of California. Prior to this role, he was the Director of the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action (CILSA) overseeing the service-learning and community engagement program at Saint Mary’s College. Before coming to Saint Mary’s College in 2007, Marshall was the Director of the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center at the University of Utah and a faculty member in the College of Education.

Vikram Perry, OC ’22, is the inaugural Bonner Community History Fellow (2022-23). Vikram will spend the year contributing to several locally-driven Community-Based Research projects, including the Groundwater Project, Lorain County Racial Equity Center, and research focused on the African American Oberlin abolitionist Wilson Bruce Evans (1824-1898), the home he built in Oberlin, the lives of his descendants, the lives of other Oberlin African American abolitionists, and related themes.  In particular, in the summer of 2022, the Bonner Community History Fellow will focus on developing a “biography” of the area around the intersection of East Mill/Vine Street South Main Street where the Wilson Bruce Evans House still stands today, at the beginning of its restoration as a historic house museum and educational center.

Cora López, a third-year Musical Studies major and Remsen Welsh, a third-year double major in Theater and Africana Studies, contribute research to the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue Theatre Project as Bonner Center Community-Based Research Fellows, conducting research for the writing of the play and dramaturgical assistance for turning the script into a staged performance, and played a key role in convening community-wide audiences and strengthening community connections. They provided organizational assistance through direct invitation to schools, colleges, civic organizations, and faith communities. They assisted in public events including two staged readings of the play in progress at Oberlin College and at the Lorain County Community College. They represented the Project at information tables at Lorain County’s 2022 Juneteenth celebrations. Additionally, they play a key role in media outreach to the community by developing content for the Project’s website and newsletter, two primary organs of communication to community partners and potential audiences. As part of this process, the Bonner Fellows/Interns have conducted interviews with local historians and community partners.

Tania Boster, former Executive Director of the Bonner Center, participated in a year-long project as a member of the Lorain County Racial Equity Working Group. Boster led the “Community History” sub-committee and participated in the Public Health sub-committee throughout 2021-2022, and contributed to the report “Lorain County Racial Equity Agenda: Racism as a Public Health Crisis Findings and Next Steps” (Fall 2022).

Professor of Environmental Studies Jay Fiskio published Climate Change, Literature, and Environmental Justice: Poetics of Dissent and Repair. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2021).

Professor of Comparative American Studies Gina Perez contributed research conducted with her students and community partners to an exhibit celebrating 100 years of Latinas/os in Lorain. This exhibit features oral histories, photos and additional archival materials documenting this long history with a focus on Vine Avenue, a vibrant neighborhood that was home to many Mexican, Puerto Rican and other Latin American newcomers arriving in Lorain through the mid-1950s.

Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Comparative American Studies Janet Fiskio was awarded a Consortium on High Achievement and Success Grant. The grant will be used to support participation by students in the November 2019 HBCU Climate Consortium Conference in New Orleans. Students will present the results of their community-directed research in Africatown, Alabama and discuss their work on the Africatown Digital Archive, a collaborative community history project.

Former Director of Bonner Center Curricular Initiatives Tania Boster contributed a chapter, “From Pansophia to Public Humanities: Connecting Past and Present Through Community-Based Learning,” to the edited volume Teaching Social Justice Through Shakespeare: Why Renaissance Literature Matters Now, Edited by Hillary Eklund, Wendy Beth Hyman, Edinburgh University Press, October 2019.

Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and Anthropology Jennifer Fraser presented the paper “Building Community through Music: Working at the Interface Between Applied Ethnomusicology, Community Music, and Community-Engaged Learning Pedagogy” at the 45th International Council for Traditional Music World Conference held July 11-17, 2019, at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.

Professor of Comparative American Studies Gina Perez co-organized an advanced seminar workshop at the School of Advanced Research. The seminar was titled “Ethnographies of Contestation and Resilience in Latinx America.”

Associate Dean Laura Baudot published “Closer Reading: Teaching fiction at work,” in The Point Magazine, May 2019.

Jennifer Fraser, Adrian Bautista, Jody Kerchner, Tania Boster, and Trecia Pottinger presented together on their Community-Based Learning & Research at the 2018 Imagining America National Conference in Chicago, Illinois.

Professors of Environmental Studies Janet Fiskio and Md Rumi Shammin, “Cultivating Community: Black Agrarianism in Cleveland, Ohio” — Janet Fiskio, Md Rumi Shammin, and Vel Scott coauthored an article which appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of GASTRONOMICA: THE JOURNAL OF CRITICAL FOOD STUDIES.

Professor of Dance Ann Cooper Albright’s book, Choreographing Difference, has been translated into Greek by Nissos Press.

Professor of Studio Art Julia Christensen“During the RNC, Two Art Projects Amplify the Voices of Ohio’s Citizens” and “Before Protesting at the Republican National Convention, Learn to Protect Your Phone” — Julia Christensen published two articles that discuss artwork on view in Cleveland throughout the Republican National Convention.

Gina Perez, “In defense of Ohio’s sanctuary cities” — Gina Perez published an op-ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about sanctuary cities.

For a list of Community-Based Learning Courses being offered in Academic Year 2022-23, refer to the Course Catalog.

The Faculty Committee on CBL invites you to notify the registrar of any courses you will offer during the 2022-23 or 2023-24 academic year that fit the criteria for designation (see below).  

Community-based learning may take the form of direct service projects or be theoretical or methodological, such as a foundational or introductory course that focuses on the ethics or methods of effective and reciprocal community engagement.

The CBL course designation indicates that the course has a community-engaged component based on the following criteria:

  • The instructor and the community partner/s identify a community need and agree upon mutually beneficial goals that are appropriate for student engagement and learning.
  • The instructor develops course learning goals that provide students with mentorship and skills necessary to succeed in a community-based learning experience.
  • The course structure is based on sound CBL pedagogical practices that include meaningful, reciprocal, and direct student interactions with the community partner/s, and addresses a community need or goal.
  • The instructor develops assessment mechanisms that include written or verbal student reflection, as well as direct feedback from the community partner/s (and served population when appropriate).

Contact Thom Dawkins, Chair of the General Faculty Committee on CBL, if you have any questions.