From Classroom to Community (and Back Again)

For Bonner Scholar Sadie Owens, the best lessons come from teaching others.

April 20, 2023

Tyler Applegate

Sadie Owens
Photo credit: courtesy of Sadie Owens

Oberlin’s Bonner Scholars program has been connecting classrooms to communities for more than 30 years. Operated by the Bonner Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Teaching, and Research and supported by the national Bonner Foundation, the scholars program provides four-year community service scholarships to approximately 60 Oberlin students who are the first in their families to attend college or come from underrepresented populations. Bonner Scholars participate in intensive, developmental community-engagement experiences throughout their time at Oberlin.

Each year, approximately 15 incoming first-year students are selected as Bonner Scholars. Their experience is guided by designated student leaders, who lead community projects and engage with the entire campus community about service opportunities. Fourth-year Bonner leader Sadie Owens ’23 is a politics and philosophy major with a minor in writing and communication and an integrative concentration in education studies. She’s completing her Bonner experience as the leadership team’s coordinator for first-year Bonner Scholars. During her time as a Bonner Scholar, she has also served as a tutor to local high school students with the Ninde Scholars program, as a creative writing mentor to incarcerated youth through Oberlin Writers in Residence, and with the Stark County YMCA near her hometown of Canton, Ohio, where she’s been supporting children’s education since high school.

We caught up with Owens to learn about her Bonner experience and how she fosters service at Oberlin. Learn more about getting involved in community-based initiatives at the Bonner Center website

Can you describe the Bonner Scholar program to someone who is unfamiliar?

The Bonner Scholars program is a collection of like-minded, service-oriented students with first-generation and/or low-income backgrounds coming together to make a difference in their community.

How has your service with Bonner corresponded to social issues you care about?

Access to education is the most important and closest issue to me. As a first-generation student, it has been a privilege to be able to work with other students applying to or entering college for the first time.

Sadie Owens at Bonner Center's First Year Trip.
Owens helps out during Bonner's First-Year Trip
Photo Credit: courtesy of Brittnei Sherrod

How have your Bonner experiences related to your academic or professional interests?

My goal is to work with students and to uplift students of different backgrounds. Being able to do so in Bonner through my service, as well as participate in a community that has lifted me up in similar ways, has prepared me for a career in this field and modeled how I can make a difference.

What do you enjoy most about your Bonner experiences?

I enjoy how much of a tangible difference I am able to make. As a Bonner leader, I am given the opportunity to participate in planning, organizing, and shaping this program for the Bonners below me, and for future scholars to come. It’s so rewarding and truly special to be able to see my ideas come to life and to know that I am making a difference to people whom I share so much in common with. 

What have you learned about the Oberlin community through your service?

I’ve learned that the Oberlin community is full of vastly different people, from different backgrounds and with different beliefs. The Oberlin community is a rich and often unexplored tapestry of ideas, insights, and specialized knowledge that the college can truly benefit from, and that has definitely taught me so much.

What is unique to you about the Bonner Scholar community?

The Bonner Scholar community is unique, to me, in its ability to foster intimate conversations and relationships. In a place so fast-paced as Oberlin, I admire how slow-moving and close-knit the community feels.

Can you share a fond Bonner memory?

My favorite Bonner memory was the All-Bonner Retreat last fall. I remember sitting at a table with fellow Bonners and reflecting on our time at Oberlin, and realizing how much we had all learned and grown, and in particular the ways in which Bonner has allowed us to develop and become who we are.

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