Supporting our network of Affiliate partners is a keystone of our work at Smithsonian Affiliations. As we continue to reflect on our past 25 years, it is the strength of the people we work with at Affiliate organizations that truly makes an impact on the work that we do. This month we are focusing on the professional development collaborations with Affiliate colleagues. Here we take you on a visual journey of the ways in which we have helped to make an impact furthering the professional growth of staff at our Affiliate partner organizations.
The Smithsonian Affiliations Visiting Professionals Program (VPP) has been helping Affiliate staff get the technical and intellectual training they need in one form or another since 2001. In the early days of the VPP, individual Affiliate professionals would come to the Smithsonian from two to six weeks to immerse themselves in a project alongside a Smithsonian expert. Their programs were tailored to each individual and they spent their entire time at one Smithsonian museum or unit. Upon returning to their Affiliate organization, the Visiting Professionals would apply their newfound knowledge on a project at their Affiliate organization.
As more and more Affiliate staff members applied for and participated in the VPP, the team at Smithsonian Affiliations knew there had to be an opportunity to reach more professionals—because of staff time we could only accept up to 5 per year if the program remained the same. A highlight of the VPP was when Affiliate participants overlapped and were at the Smithsonian at the same time. How could we replicate that for a shared in-person learning experience? In 2018, our question was answered and an updated VPP was born. With support from the Getty Foundation, Smithsonian Affiliations was able to offer professional development opportunities to even more Affiliate staff members. A total of 19 staff participated in the VPP in 2018 and 2019 in Washington, D.C. These cohorts focused on developing their knowledge of broadening access to collections using digital tools and technologies. In addition to the digital skills, participants were also exposed to leadership skill building thanks to the expertise of Marsha Semmel, of Marsha Semmel Consulting, one of the cohort’s expert instructors. At the conclusion of the program, participants noted growth in their confidence in both their digital and leadership skills as well as their ability to implement a new digital strategy upon their return home.
“I am so grateful for the Smithsonian Affiliations Visiting Professionals Program experience,” said Katie Staib, Director of Education at the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture in Spokane, WA. “Who could even imagine how pertinent the program would be to us! As we face Covid 19 challenges, I have been thinking of how timely the training provided through VPP [was]. Thanks to my experience with VPP, I feel prepared, as I help my staff shift from delivering in person museum experiences to focusing on digital engagement. I have been so impressed with how nimble my team has been as they embraced the challenge with creativity and enthusiasm. I am happy to share that the education, collections, and marketing departments here at the MAC are collaborating to remain relevant in our community through digital engagement. Promptly shifting to digital delivery of educational programs is impacting our ability to provide staff with meaningful work during this unique time.”
In addition to our formal professional development program, Smithsonian Affiliations has supported the training needs of our Affiliate partners in numerous other ways. Affiliates have collaborated with the Smithsonian’s Center for Learning and Digital Access to provide training for local teachers on the Smithsonian Learning Lab to increase access to educational material.
And since 2002, Smithsonian Affiliations has collaborated with the Museo y Centro de Estudios Humamísticos to bring professional development to Puerto Rico to provide hands-on training to museum professionals to increase the representation of people of color in the museum field.
While the global pandemic put a damper on our in-person professional development opportunities in 2020 and 2021, we are looking forward to picking thing up where we left off in 2019 and helping even more Affiliate staff reach their professional development goals in the future.
Previous posts from our 25th Anniversary series:
Chapter 2: National Youth Summits
Chapter 3: 10 Years of Reaching for the Stars Together