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AAHC Forum: Recruiting, Training and Mentoring Future Generations of Museum Professionals

January 24, 2013

This post is a part of the AAHC Forum. In the coming months we will invite current and past grantees to contribute their project experiences via blog posts on our UpNext Blog and then ask you to respond through the AAHC Virtual Forum. We hope you will add your voice and share your needs and opinions so that AAHC can continue to help African American museums thrive. Please visit the AAHC forum to continue the conversation.

By Dr. E. Murell Dawson
Interim Director, Carrie Meek-James Eaton Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum at Florida A&M University

The Black Archives at Florida A&M University is a special training ground for students. Four years ago, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funded the Inspiring Authorities in Museum Management (I AMM) project to help recruit, train and mentor graduate students in the museum practice. This allowed the center to enhance and expand its training initiatives and more diligently address the national shortage of minorities practicing in the museum field.

I AAM fellows (left to right) Lorraine Rossi, Tirrell Wilkerson, Brad Miller, Anthony Thompson, and I AAM mentee Keila Dumas on a facilities and space utilization site visit to the FAMU/FSU College of Engineering. Photo courtesy of the Meek-Eaton Black Archives.

The first years were challenging. After three years and 13 graduate students, we quickly gauged which individuals were serious about the profession or just looking for a job. Last fall, we began training four awesome graduate students – all different, and each eager to see how to connect this “museum thing” to their particular academic programs.

Brad Miller, a native Bahamian, is working on a M.B.A. and trains in marketing and development. He is helping add economic vitality to our gift shop, fundraisers, and community events. He was a little introverted at first, not knowing how to connect his business skills to the museum. We kept assuring him that beyond the duties we assigned, he had freedom to make suggestions. With other fellows, he helped with normal regimens like giving tours, fabricating exhibits, and hosting special programs. But when he organized volunteers for the center’s Archives Month event, which included mini-workshops, social media presentations, forums, and tours, he discovered untapped talents. Responsible for implementing a logistics plan that assigned students to different tasks and areas, his color-coordinated system really helped the event run smoothly. From that point on, Brad has taken more ownership in his role as an I AMM fellow.

Lorraine Rossi, a National Board-certified educator, taught high school social studies for nine years. She is working on a master’s degree in history and is ecstatic about returning to school. She trains in archives and loves it. Her archival experiences led to a paper on John F. Matheus, a Harlem Renaissance writer whose collection she helped prepare for online access. She will present this research at the Southern Conference on African American Studies and National Association of African American Studies and Affiliates 2013 conferences. Lorraine also trains in museum management, marketing, and development. Lorraine, who wants to be an archivist, is interning this summer at Louisiana’s Amistad Research Center. She definitely will remain in the practice long term.

I AMM Fellows Lorraine Rossi and Anthony Thompson pull materials from archival stacks. Photo courtesy of the Meek-Eaton Black Archives.

Anthony Thompson, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, taught high school history in Mississippi for three years and is pursuing a master’s in history. He began training in archives, but once exposed to other museum areas quickly excelled in visitor and curatorial services. He is a natural born orator, bubbles with charisma, and loves interacting with people – all great attributes for work in our profession. While training, he produced a study on the integration of Tallahassee’s premier historically all-white high school. He too will present his work at the two conferences.

I AMM Fellow Tirrell Wilkerson gives a tour to students visiting the museum from Miami, Florida. Photo courtesy of the Meek-Eaton Black Archives.

Tirrell Wilkerson of Orlando, Florida, is pursuing a master’s in social work. The former I AMM undergraduate mentee volunteered and worked at the center since his freshman year. He is an excellent example of how a mentee can become a fellow, demonstrating the importance of undergraduate recruitment. He trains in visitor services and public programming and is the lead tour guide and docent trainer. Tirrell is conducting research on HIV and plans to produce a correlating exhibit.

While completing final exams, papers and projects, one last endeavor the fellows worked on collectively in 2012 was what I call, “flipping an exhibit.” They began dismantling and storing our “HER-Story” exhibit and began pulling materials and installing our upcoming Black History Month exhibition, “The Struggle Continues.” Our 2013 blogs will have more updates.


Dr. E. Murell Dawson is the interim director, archivist and curator at the Carrie Meek-James Eaton Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum at Florida A&M University (FAMU).  She also serves as an adjunct professor of history and first-year college experience. As the principal investigator for the IMLS sponsored program, Inspiring Authorities in Museum Management (I AMM), she is responsible for the recruitment, training and mentoring of graduate-level I AMM fellows and undergraduate I AMM mentees.

Museum Grants for African American History and Culture
Museum Grants for African American History and Culture