Youth Advisory Group amplifies teen voices

The Smithsonian may be almost 200 years old, but that doesn’t mean we have to act like it. Local teens and students from around the country are chiming in on museum matters and helping us stay relevant in a digital world.

Group photo with Capital in the background

Local participants in the November 2017 SSYAC meeting gathered on the roof of the American Indian Museum for a photo op. Standing, from left, Dr. Robin Davisson, Machel Monenerkit (NMAI), Sophia Sadikman, Yingzhi Dai, Calia Christie, Anmol Kahlon, Cleo Caldwell, Jillian Perry, Janae Charles, Laura Espinoza, Trenni Jefferson, and Keira DiGaetano. Kneeling, from left, Elisee Djapa, Luke Courtney, Secretary David Skorton, Michael Pankowski, Joshua Chang, [not pictured Cordell Pugh] (Photo by Katherine Fogden)

The Smithsonian Secretary’s Youth Advisory Council (SSYAC) was first convened in 2016 to elicit high school juniors’ and seniors’ thoughts about how the Institution might better engage young people in greater DC—as well as across the globe. Weeks ago it wrapped up another successful year.

In April, this year’s Council members—some of whom will be graduating in the weeks ahead, some returning to the Council this fall—wrapped up their terms with a meeting at the National Zoo. Over the course of the 2017-2018 school year, the group gathered quarterly to discuss with Smithsonian leadership everything from how museums might use technology in new ways to what a museum’s role ought to be in helping visitors make sense of global conflicts, or the quest for social justice, or enhanced conservation of natural resources. Participants also tackled assignments between the face-to-face meetings to share at future gatherings and practiced skills such as public speaking and advocacy.

“It was rewarding to meet a lot of people with different political opinions and hear their perspectives, as well as possibly influence the Smithsonian,” commented one of the participants. In addition, several of the Council members felt that their taking part in the program broadened their own perspective on the world, just as a visit to a museum ought to do. “It opened my eyes outside of my small town about the big issues happening all over the country.”

“The council helps me to gather invaluable information from teens,” said Secretary David Skorton, who established the Council two years ago. “I learn important perspectives on how teens think about cultural institutions and their impact on society. We will put that feedback into use at the Smithsonian as we develop an institution for the 21st century that will be relevant to future generations.”

This year’s program included 15 local teens, 11 of whom were new to the YAC, from schools ranging from Washington, D.C.’s School Without Walls to Sterling, Va.’s Parkview High School and Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md.

Photo of laptop screen showing videoconference participants.

Students from around the country participate in meetings of the Smithsonian Secretary’s Youth Advisory Council via videoconference. Top row, middle: Talia Heater (Ohio), Caroline Clifton (Ohio): right: Emily Morales (Texas), Derek Munoz (Texas), Bottom row, from left: Devyn Butler (New York), Mara Troy (New York) Malak Wazne (Michigan), Fatima Abu-Omarah (Michigan), Hannah Jones (South Carolina), and Henry Lear (South Carolina). (Photo by Katherine Fogden.

For the first time, five Smithsonian Affiliate sites—Arab American National Museum (Dearborn, Mich.); Fort Worth Museum of Science and History (Fort Worth, Texas); National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Cincinnati); The Rockwell Museum (Corning, N.Y.); and Upcountry History Museum at Greenville, S.C.’s Furman University—each hosted two local teens to take part in SSYAC events via videoconference.

The ties to various Smithsonian Affiliates will mean “connecting with teens from diverse areas in America and gaining a wide variety of perspectives,” said Skorton.

“It’s been a sincere pleasure to connect to this particular group of young people,” said Tracie Spinale, the Council’s program coordinator. The Associate Provost for Education and Access, the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, the Office of the Chief Information Officer,, SI/AV, Smithsonian Affiliations, as well as Smithsonian Visitor Services, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian Latino Center, and the National Zoo were all integral in bringing this year’s program to fruition,” she added.

The SSYAC is poised to grow even more in the coming school year. For more information, visit https://www.si.edu/youth-programs.

Posted: 7 June 2018
About the Author:

Amy Rogers Nazarov writes about D.C. culture & history and manages social media for non-profits and small businesses from her home on Capitol Hill. Her byline has appeared in Cooking Light, The Writer, Psychology Today, The Washington Post and many other print and Web publications. Before going freelance, she spend a decade reporting on high tech for a wide array of newspapers and magazines.