Tutor/Mentor Connection

Connect knowledge, volunteers, youth and make a difference.

Conference Welcome Address by Dr. Clinton Nichols

We held the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference in Chicago on Nov. 21. It was hosted by the Chicago Field Museum. Welcoming remarks were made by Dr. Clinton Nichols who has worked at the Field Museum since 2006 as an Urban Anthropologist in the Division of Environment, Culture and Conservation. Dr. Nichols hosted a panel at the conference as one of many new friends that we made during the day. Below are his welcoming remarks:

Good morning. Thank you Dan and the Tutor/Mentor Connection for the generous and kind introduction. I want to welcome all of you to the Field Museum of Natural History on behalf of a few individuals: first my immediate supervisor, Dr. Alaka Wali; Senior Vice President of Environment, Culture and Conservation Dr. Debby Moskovits; and the Museum’s President and Chief Executive Officer John McCarter.

Some of you may wonder why a natural history would host a conference about tutoring and mentoring programs. This is no surprise to me. For a long time the Field Museum has pushed the boundaries about how a museum uses its collections and research to be part of the metropolitan community. Both the Field Museum and Tutor/Mentor Connection have a deep commitment to creating interesting learning opportunities for young people. At the Museum, these take the form of our exhibits, educational programs to visiting school groups, innovative outreach efforts such as the Harris Loan program.

Our Anthropology collections represent the material culture of peoples around the world. But it is worth noting these items manifest tutoring and mentoring. We should enter today’s events mindful that for most of human history knowledge of the world, our place in it, and our relationship to other people was passed down not through schools and universities but in tutoring someone how to fish or farm, how to weave a basket or make a house, and in mentoring someone in how to harness their gifts to mediate conflict, to heal or to matchmake for the benefit of their society. Indeed schools and universities, not to mention museums, are relatively recent inventions in educating. But tutoring and mentoring are markedly different because these actions do not require advanced degrees or qualifications that set a person apart from others. To tutor and mentor a younger person reminds us that everyone possesses knowledge she can share. In this sense the Field Museum is a perfect host for today’s conference. Environment, Culture and Conservation, a scientific division affectionately known here as ECCo, uses an approach that identifies and harnesses the knowledge and organizational assets of local communities in order to improve the quality of life. In the foothills of the Amazon our engagement with indigenous communities has resulted in the dedication of thousands of square kilometers as national parks, protecting these communities’ way of life and diverse plant and animal species. Here in Chicago we have worked to promote cultural understanding through Cultural Connections, a program that brings together educators and the city’s cultural centers and ethnic museums. An initiative at a mixed income housing development has promoted residents’ talents as a way to foster community and to strengthen organizations in the north Kenwood/Oakland neighborhood.

Today’s conference is an opportunity for all of us to share best practices in tutor/mentor programs. We will also have the chance to learn about innovative mapping tools that can assist in developing programs in parts of our city where these are lacking. We will also share strategies about how to more effectively inform the public and donors about the importance of our programs. At a moment when we have an unacceptably high drop out rate and an unacceptably high number of students who graduate without the necessary skills to succeed, tutoring and mentoring programs must be part of the solutions to keep our youth engaged in their own education and career development.

On behalf of the staff at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection and my Museum colleagues I encourage you to participate in as many workshops as you can. Network with as many people here as you can. I hope you leave today with your head full of ideas, your heart full of enthusiasm, and your pocket full of colleagues’ business cards. And of course take time to enjoy the wonderful exhibits that are second to none in the world. These too can spark new ways tutoring and mentoring our youth.

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