The Power of the Third Space
This post is part of our “Broadening and Diversifying the Leadership Pipeline” blog salon for National Arts in Education Week 2018.
Mentor Perspective: Jessica Nuñez
Mentorship: I believe is a crucial part of Youth Development. If you had asked me as a teen in the Newark Museum Explorers Program many moons ago, I would have never thought that I would be a mentor to 45 students. Youth Development is essential in creating this concept of the third space—not home or school, but one that youth select on their own. Designing a safe space creates a collaborative learning environment that produces innovative ideas, lasting friendships, and strong ties to the institutions and organizations that provide these programs. I am a result of that mentorship and of the many opportunities the Explorers Program provided me. Everything from college readiness workshops to field trips to museum galas informed my experience and my desire to continue to engage with other cultural institutions. Fast forward to 2018, and I’ve now seen over 30 students graduate. I am inspired by my students daily, constantly pushing to be more creative, but also making sure all students are heard. I believe one of the greatest services we can do as mentors is recognize that all students are leaders now, in the present. This shifts the dynamic from having one leader, opening space for new ideas.
The Explorers Program since its inception has graduated about 280 students. My very first year as the Explorers Program Coordinator, I met Samantha Joseph. Samantha quickly became one of the strongest advocates for the program. While developing the curriculum, several components must be included, ranging from college readiness to art history to public speaking. A large part of planning is asking all my students what they want to learn, places they might want to visit, and workshops they want to partake in. Having their opinions, insights, and criticisms are crucial to maintaining a robust living curriculum—one that belongs to the students. Samantha was always vocal and eager to share her experiences with others. Recognizing that not all students like to share, I created other avenues to inspire ideas: surveys, peer discussion groups, anonymous snowball fights, anything to be certain that everyone was heard. Open and honest communication is very important, as I always remind them that we are reflections of one another and that the program is only as good as the effort they place in it.
Samantha, as an advocate of the program, was a leader in her own right. She helped cultivate younger students and believed strongly in pursuing all her goals. No one goal was less than another—they all had equal tenacity and love. I admire that most about her and now, as an alumna, she continues to inspire and support the Explorers Program. For me, Samantha Joseph is a resounding successful example of what the third space can do for youth. I aim to listen, teach, mentor, and provide support to all my students in hopes that they return and share their experiences with younger generations—creating a stronger alumni network for years to come. This year we successfully held our second alumni reunion, and the network continues to grow. Samantha and all the alumni have become part of a larger family, one that holds the Newark Museum at the epicenter of their Youth Development experience.
Mentee Perspective: Samantha Joseph
The word mentor is defined as “an experienced and trusted adviser,” and having a mentor who is a woman of color trust who you are and your abilities, regardless of your background, is something invaluable. Mentorship is more than being there for someone—it means you see them for who they are and help them achieve new heights; and lucky for me, I had the chance to experience just that. When I started the Newark Museum Explorers Program back in August 2015, I was a girl who was unbelievably shy and very soft spoken. However, the Explorers Program curriculum has milestones built in to help teens grow into their own skin and confidence—like giving tours, or taking trips to other cultural institutions similar to the Newark Museum. None of this would have been possible if it were not for my mentor Ms. Jessica Nuñez.
The Newark Museum became a second home for me, where I felt comfortable to be myself. My mentor understood my life story and culture—that inclusivity is one of the many reasons the Newark Museum Explorers Program is successful. It is an added layer to the college, life, and career readiness skills we learn. Now that I have graduated from the Explorers Program and know what it feels like to be mentored by a person who understands who I am, my own personal goal is to come back and do the same for others. Seeing myself develop into the strong and confident woman I am today is a huge testament to having a mentor who allowed me to voice my own opinion. She believed in me and fostered my growth. Growing up in a Creative Youth Development program has inspired me to start thinking about developing my own program highlighting performing arts—hopefully inspiring girls like me to do their very best.