Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Smithsonian in the 21st Century: A Haven for High School Hispanics

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Smithsonian in the 21st Century: A Haven for High School Hispanics

Article excerpt

Times have changed and museums like the Smithsonian have changed with them. It's not enough to be a brick- and-mortar monument to the past unless it can be seen as instructive and relevant to today's population. Museums like the Smithsonian can also make it their business to answer the clarion call to help an educationally underserved population succeed in secondary and higher education. This is what the Smithsonian's Board of Regents had in mind when they established the Smithsonian Latino Center in 1997 (previously known as Center for Latino Initiatives) . It was a natural fit for this institution, established in 1846 on property bequeathed by Englishman James Smithson, who had the vision to create an "establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge."

In the more than 160 years since that urne, the Smithsonian has grown to include 19 museums, the National Zoological Park, and nine research centers located in Washington, D.C., and its metropolitan area; New York City; Cambridge, Mass.; Fort Pierce, Fla.; and Panama. The Smithsonian employs approximately 6,900 staff, has over 137 million collection objects, and hosted more than 23 million visitors at its core museum locations and over 1 50 million visitors to its public websites.

The Smithsonian Latino Center (SLC) has grown since its inception 25 years ago to become an educational outreach and research center focused on ensuring that Latino contributions to art, science and the humanities are highlighted, understood and advanced through the development and support of public programs, scholarly research, museum collections and its affiliated organizations across the United States. It is a pan-institutional unit that works with the entire network of Smithsonian museums, research centers, the National Zoo and over 140 affiliates nationwide. In establishing the SLC, the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents stated this as its rationale and mission, "The Latino presence in the Americas is centuries old, culturally rich, and demographically vast and growing. ... The Center is established so that American history and culture may be displayed in all of its diversity."

The center promotes the inclusion of Latino contributions in Smithsonian programs, exhibitions, collections and public outreach. It does this through its support - either through funding or technical assistance - of cultural, historical and scientific projects across the Smithsonian that represents significant Latino achievement. It also develops and manages educational programs, products and outreach to the Latino community as well as promotes public awareness of Latino programs at the Smithsonian museums and its affiliates across the United States.

A natural outgrowth of the SLC and of particular interest to high school seniors who are Hispanic is the SLC's Young Ambassadors Program. It is a national, interdisciplinary leadership development program for graduating high school seniors. The mission of the program is to foster the next generation of Latino leaders in the arts, sciences and humanities through the Smithsonian Institution and its resources.

Up to 24 graduating high school seniors with an interest in and commitment to disciplines in the arts, sciences or humanities as it relates to Latino communities and cultures are selected to participate in an all-expenses-paid training seminar in Washington, D. C., and a four-week internship in museums and cultural institutions across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The program seeks to empower Latino youth to develop leadership and academic skills and foster pride in their own cultural heritage. The SLC also administers the Young Ambassadors Program, which is a national leadership development program for high school seniors that cultivates the next generation of Latino leaders in the arts and culture fields through a one-week seminar at the Smithsonian with artists, curators, historians and other museum and arts professionals. Following the seminar, students return to museums and other cultural institutions in their local communities, including Smithsonian- affiliated organizations, for a four-week summer internship to gain practical experience and promote Latino heritage. …

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