Colleen Connolly, '14

Colleen Connolly, '14

February 29, 2012
Bonner Scholar exemplifies servant leadership through her work with children and education

The Bonner Scholars Program and the Jepson School of Leadership Studies sold Colleen Connolly, '14, on the University of Richmond when she visited campus as a high school student. Now Connolly is combining a double major in leadership studies and political science with her Bonner Scholars service in order to study children in educational settings from many different perspectives. In the process, she has learned not only how to serve, but how to lead.

As a Bonner Scholar, Connolly dedicates 10 hours a week to serving in the community and participating in educational programming and reflection activities related to her service. Connolly chose Henderson Middle School, a Northside Richmond public school and a partner site of Build It, the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) neighborhood-based program, as her permanent Bonner service site.

"I saw the Bonner Scholars Program as my opportunity to make service my niche at the University of Richmond," Connolly said. "The program is so much more than filling out an hourly log sheet. In my case, I've developed relationships with the children, teachers, and administrators at Henderson. The Bonner Scholars Program also complements my curriculum; I've found so many ways to connect my service to my academics."

Those connections are particularly striking in community-based learning (CBL) courses, such as Connolly's leadership studies course Justice and Civil Society, taught by Dr. Thad Williamson. "The course connected theories of justice to how the structures and institutions of our society function," Connolly said. Connolly observed how these theories and structures played out at Henderson, an urban public school.

She also gained valuable insights through the Sophomore Scholars in Residence (SSIR) class Children and Their Worlds, co-taught by Dr. Catherine Bagwell of the psychology department and Dr. Rick Mayes of the political science department. Students studied four realms of children's existence: education, peers and family, physical health, and mental health.

Connolly's service contributed to her understanding of these issue areas. For example, in the fall she explored children's mental health by working with autistic students in a special-education classroom at St. Joseph's Villa, a partner site of the CCE's Richmond Families Initiative (RFI), which focuses on children and family well-being. Connolly served on the RFI student-leadership team her first year on campus.

This semester, she and three other SSIR students are addressing children's physical health by spearheading the creation of a community garden and accompanying nutritional curriculum for elementary school children at the North Richmond YMCA, a Build It partner site.

Connolly also started and leads an after-school service program at Henderson Middle School. Students involved in the program, dubbed Community Changes Everything (CCE), a word play on the University's own CCE, have participated in a neighborhood-cleanup project, a school-renovation workday, and a canned-food drive.

In yet another example of her efforts to promote educational opportunities to all children, Connolly has led campus tours for elementary and middle school children as a volunteer with PACE, a Bonner Center initiative promoting college access.

"The common thread for many of my experiences is children and education," Connolly said. "I have a passion for children and education policy. Sustainable, long-term relationships, such as those I have developed at Henderson, are ideal, but I also learn a lot from engaging in a variety of shorter-term service experiences."

The complementary relationship of her academics and service has greatly enhanced her learning, Connolly said.

"My leadership studies connects to my Bonner service by challenging me to think about social justice and social movements. My service challenges me to think about my role in society and how I can translate what I learn at UR to the city of Richmond and beyond."