How One Museum Amplified Youth Voice with a Teen Advisory Board


Rhode Island Historical Society


Educational Programming 
Volunteer Engagement

The Opportunity

Sarah Carr, Director of Advancement and Public Engagement at Rhode Island Historical Society, started her journey with the RIHS nearly eight years ago as the Education & Program Coordinator for the RIHS’s Museum of Work & Culture. Sarah and her colleagues recognized that the surrounding community had grown and changed over the past decade, becoming increasingly diverse. The RIHS team knew they had to work to cultivate lasting trust.

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The Vision

Sarah knew that one powerful way to build trust was to create meaningful opportunities for young people in the community to thrive in the museum space. And this insight – combined with her experience in youth programming and a deep appreciation of the power of youth voice and feedback – ultimately led to the development of the RIHS Teen Advisory Board. 

The Teen Advisory Board started as a group of 5 students working with only one museum department. As of December 2022, there are 22 students elected to a self-governing advisory board, operating under by-laws and making tangible contributions to organization-wide outcomes.

So how did they get there?

The Process



Sarah and her colleagues grew the Teen Advisory Board from 5 to 22 using a few key recruitment strategies:

Educational Programming

RIHS leveraged existing programs, camps, and internships to build interest among students. The initial internships were also critical for building buy-in internally. “All team members were able to experience first hand and benefit from what educators know well – that teens bring valuable insight, energy and fresh perspective into the workplace”

Targeted Outreach

The education team had existing contacts in schools and nonprofits and positioned the advisory board as a real leadership development opportunity.


RIHS also included the opportunity in all of their standard marketing outlets – social media accounts, e-blasts, and newsletters.

As the number of student board members grew, recruitment became less of a challenge. Students felt ownership over that process and shared the opportunity with peers and teachers. 

Students also advised on the application process and helped develop a strategy for electing members. Sarah collaborated with the advisory board to make the application process transparent and accessible to their peers.

Screen grab of the Rhode Island Historical Society's Teen Advisory Board Application.


Structure and Operations

The Teen Board operates as a self-governing body with support and guidance from Sarah. They have a committee structure – an executive committee, a standing communications committee, and ad hoc committees for special projects and initiatives. And they have created a separate branch of ‘Teen Ambassadors’ for students who can’t commit to the board but want to be engaged.

The board has a monthly meeting held virtually, and before each meeting, the board president writes the agenda and meets with Sarah to discuss agenda items and priorities. A museum staff member is always present at the meetings, but the teens lead the discussion.

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Advisory Board Responsibilities 


The teen board members volunteer at events and have been responsible for creating, managing, and leading activities for key museum programs.

educational products

Students have generated and provided feedback on various educational products and services, including student tours, activities, and even educator resources used by classroom teachers across the state. 
Check out the EnCompass Digital Sourcebook and the Rhode Island History Navigator!

social media

The students have worked with the museum marketing team to create social media content based on current collections and fact sheets provided by the RIHS team.

Partnership Opportunities

Teen board members have also been invited to provide feedback on the State of Rhode Island social studies standards and represented RIHS at the Smithsonian’s National Youth Summit.
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The Impact

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Improved Products + Services
Sarah emphasized the power of inviting students to provide feedback on the educational products and services they will be using and creating opportunities to drive the improvements. “When creating educational products, you get feedback from teachers but not from students. We got to hear from [students] and then gave them the power to design products they want to see in the classroom.”
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Energizing Stakeholders

Students’ volunteer role at museum events was to pitch membership and other support opportunities to community participants. The students were incredibly successful at cultivating support, in large part, Sarah believes, because of this clear demonstration of leadership and commitment to the institution from young people. She believes there is a significant opportunity to build on that foundation in the future. 

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Leadership Development

The Teen Advisory Board is a genuine commitment. From the application and election process to the by-laws and structured monthly meetings, students operate as a largely independent and self-governing body, with guidance and support from Sarah and the team. They work together to decide on priorities, make strategic planning decisions, and build consensus while navigating their academics and social life. It is an experience that will help them prepare for work and life in the future.

The Lessons Learned

Sarah strongly advocates meaningfully including student voices in institutions’ strategies and decision-making. She also understands that many institutions have limited staff and bandwidth and that creating buy-in for onboarding and managing a teen advisory board can be challenging. Here are four lessons learned and recommendations Sarah has for teams considering launching a Teen Advisory Board.
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Start Small

What worked well for RIHS was starting with 1-2 interns to demonstrate the impact committed young people can have on a museum. Once there was buy-in, it became easier to start building the board.
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This one might be tough for institutions strapped for time and resources, but one investment that Sarah believes has made an enormous difference is having a dedicated museum staff member to work with the Teen Board. Ideally, this is a person who has cross-functional knowledge of the museum operations and programs so that they can build opportunities for students to create real value and contribute across the institution.
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Sarah recommends preparing a roadmap of the year ahead and coming to the students with specific opportunities where they could meaningfully contribute, ideally giving them choices for which responsibilities they want to take on. Of course, this also means building contingency plans if the students cannot fully deliver.
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Think Long Term

A Teen Advisory Board is a powerful mechanism to improve museum experiences, create relevant and engaging educational products, and energize community members. But to make it work, it is essential to think long-term. Sarah shared that the third year of the board has been the best because the students have a stronger sense of responsibility and have gained insights from past successes and failures. This also means the recruiting pipeline and onboarding process are important aspects of the strategy. Students will graduate and move on, but success can continue with a strong pipeline, documentation of processes and a committed community of support at the organization to mentor 
future leaders.

The Toolkit

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Teen Advisory Board Application

RIHS used Google Forms to create a straightforward application. Check out the Teen Advisory Board Application on Google Forms here.

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Creating Youth Advisory Council

Are you think about creating a Youth Advisory Council at your institution? Use this Youth Advisory Council guide as a way to start the conversation with 
your team.

We’d love to hear from you!

Do you have a powerful story of successful community engagement or hiring and onboarding? Do you want to connect and learn more about community engagement resources and supports?

Reach out to your National Outreach Manager. They’d love to connect and share ideas!
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