Learn, Create, Befriend: History Explorers’ Youth Advisory Council (HEYAC)
This post was written by Jesse Remedios, who was a summer intern in the Office of Education and Public Engagement at the National Museum of American History. He is a rising junior in History at Duke University.
“What are you doing this summer?” My response to the frequently posed question – “Interning at the Smithsonian Institution” – is usually met with a certain degree of, dare I say it, reverence. The Smithsonian is a big deal. I was honored to be accepted into this summer’s internship program, and as a local kid, I expected some of the prestige that accompanied my new title. I also recognized how great a learning opportunity I had in front of me. What I did not expect, however, was how much fun I would have in the meantime.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH) held its inaugural History Explorers’ Youth Advisory Council (HEYAC). On weekdays starting July 13, the Office of Education and Public Engagement hosted twenty local high school students to gain valuable input on their ideas for a yearlong teen program at the museum. The teens met with curators and staff from every department at the museum, learning about their work and discussing the importance of various historical topics. The program culminated in a final presentation of their suggestions to museum staff and parents. The collaborative presentation included a formal PowerPoint, as well as a musical number and spoken word performance.
My role as an Education and Outreach Intern was to document the program through daily notes and photographs, in addition to serving as an assistant to Sage Morgan-Hubbard–the museum’s Youth Programs coordinator and the Council’s architect. The most enjoyable and meaningful aspect of my experience came in connecting with the remarkable students who participated in the program. Over the weeks of the program, the teens consistently impressed in the wide range of activities we threw at them.
The teens demonstrated incredible thoughtfulness in meetings with Spark!Lab manager Laurel Miller and Department of Interpretation Director Howard Morrison, asking detailed questions, determined to understand all elements of museum work and find a role where they fit in. They displayed their intellect in debating the most impactful Civil Rights era leaders with Christopher W. Wilson, the Director of Program in African American History and Culture. They showed empathy and compassion in discussing Latin American immigration with Curator Margaret Salazar-Porzio, and Japanese American internment with Noriko Sanefuji. And over the course of the program they revealed an array of talents, from singing and song-writing about transportation frustrations, to drawing comics about the museum’s firefighting collection, to public speaking at the final presentation.
It is incredible how you can get to know people in such a short time. In just ten days, our group– including Sage, another intern named Thomas, and myself–grew into a cohesive unit. The twenty Council members were chosen from a pool of eighty applicants and had incredibly diverse and fascinating skills, knowledge, abilities, and backgrounds. The yearlong program that results will embrace this goal to engage kids from all walks of life. The one thing that connected all of the teens was their genuine interest in history and desire to learn from one another. The most often heard feedback was that there was not enough discussion time; they craved to hear the opinions and thoughts of fellow bright young people. In the end, every single student’s voice was heard in the final presentation and everyone left the program with new friends.
My supervisor, Sage, put a great deal of hard work into designing this program and, in my opinion, it was definitely successful. We already have a reunion planned and many of the students expressed interest in joining the first yearlong teen program at the museum, which starts this fall. I feel lucky to have been a part of the initial phase of this growing organization and am confident it will continue to improve. As long as the teens involved are truly interested and passionate about learning from one another, I see only positive things to come.