Leadership Fellows Program

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Courtney Dowdall


The Leadership Fellows Program began in 2009 with the purpose of aiding anthropologists early in their careers. Fellows are paired with a mentor from the Executive Board (EB) who is available throughout the year to answer questions related to professional development and leadership roles within the American Anthropological Association. Fellows then shadow their mentors at the AAA Annual Meeting, for which a travel subsidy is provided to ensure their ability to attend. Each year a group of up to five fellows who are three to five years beyond completion of their terminal graduate degree are awarded this fellowship position in the hopes that they will learn more about the AAA, leadership opportunities, and serve as future leaders of the association. As part of the 2013 Summer Internship Program, we reached out to past fellows in phone interviews and email exchanges to find out where they are now, how they got there, and their advice for the next generation of anthropologists. Here we provide an overview of our findings. More details about individual fellows can be found in Anthropology News online.

Benefits to the Fellows

Leadership Fellows overwhelmingly cited networking opportunities as the greatest benefit of the program. Carrie Lane (California State U–Fullerton) stated that “the most significant impact the Leadership Fellows Program had on me was meeting the other Leadership Fellows.” She stays in contact with fellows from both her cohort and later cohorts, even collaborating with one fellow on a research project, and offering comments on another’s manuscript. “[The program] really fostered a strong network for me of young anthropologists who I stay in touch with now—even years later.”

While participating in the Leadership Fellows Program, Ritu Khanduri (U Texas–Arlington) was able to interact with a mentor, “and forge professional connections with the preceding cohort of Leadership Fellows.” Similarly, Jennifer Wies (Eastern Kentucky U) considers the most useful part of the program to be the ability to develop networking relations with other fellows. “…There was an accumulation of fellows that would have lunch every year at the AAA, and that was the most useful part of the Fellow Program for me. I was able to keep in touch with the people who I was a fellow with and then also network and learn from the subsequent years of fellows.” Gabriela Torres (Wheaton C) said she also stays in contact with others from her cohort. She believes that establishing similar networks through programs like the Leadership Fellows Program is key to building a stronger connection to the AAA and its future leadership.

Sitting in on the board meetings gives fellows a perspective that could not be gained otherwise. April Beisaw (Vassar C) gained an understanding of AAA that gave her the confidence to speak to the larger function and purpose of the association. Since being a fellow, “I’ve been in lots of situations where people have questions about either the AAA or about the profession that I was able to answer because of my fellowship.” By attending the AAA Annual Meeting with her mentor, Maxine Oland (Smith C) was introduced to the Archeology Division (AD) and was better able to see the influence of archaeology in the AAA. This gave her a new understanding of the structure and role of the association.

This insight into association leadership has led several fellows to pursue subsequent leadership positions in committees. Torres said that that the Leadership Fellows Program “allowed me to get some very good peer connections with the other fellows, and it gave me a better sense as to how to manage the AAA meetings [and] the administrative structure of AAA.” She explained that the program increased her knowledge of administration and overall interest in participating in the AAA. While in the program, Khanduri was able to sit in with the Committee of World Anthropologies (CWA) at the AAA Annual Meeting, where she was provided “a good feel and deeper appreciation of the inner workings of the board members and AAA staff, and the myriad issues they ponder during the conference week.” In 2013, she was elected to the CWA, which she says will further her “involvement in the AAA and in activities related to world anthropologies.” Rebecca Galemba (U Denver) states that, had she not participated in the Leadership Fellows Program, she might not have had the courage to apply for undesignated seat on the AAA Committee on Gender Equity in Anthropology. “That’s something that I probably wouldn’t have had….if I hadn’t been in the program. I may have not known it [the CoGEA] existed or thought that I was somebody who could apply.” Heide Castañeda (U South Florida) credits the Leadership Fellows Program with helping her achieve her recently earned tenure position by bringing visibility to her interest in service and leadership within the larger discipline of anthropology.

Advice for Recent Graduates

When asked what advice these past fellows would give to recent graduates just starting their careers, many mentioned the importance of getting involved early in leadership roles. From Lane’s experience, a great way to get involved is to join a smaller section. “I think the small groups…offer really important roles where students and recent graduates can step up and get to know others working in their subfields. Or they can take on smaller positions of leadership that are maybe less taxing at that stage in their career,” moving into larger roles as they progress in their careers. In her case, she joined the Society for the Anthropology of Work in graduate school, and today it continues to be central to her career as an anthropologist in terms of networking and sharing research and support. Bertin Louis (U Tennessee–Knoxville) agrees that recent graduates can play a large role in the AAA through “shap[ing] anthropological discourse and being an influence [in] how the world and people outside of anthropology see [the discipline]. And that helps to interpret and analyze the world.”

Even with all the benefits of section involvement and leadership within the AAA, Wies advises recent graduates to be mindful of the time constraints of getting involved too early in too many leadership roles. Instead, she recommends that recent graduates focus on negotiating the job market and reflecting on what kind of career they want. In light of this challenge, Oland is excited for opportunities like the Leadership Fellows Program where recent graduates can get involved with the leadership of the AAA and gain a deeper understanding of their future career prospects. Emily Lena Jones (U New Mexico) explained, “I got involved with the Leadership Fellows because I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go next with anthropology and it definitely did inform some of my decisions about moving jobs and getting involved in a different program.” Galemba advises her undergrads to be proactive in seeking out opportunities, and to “take things in perspective and balance…looking at where you will be happy as well as what’s best for your career.”

Beisaw provides three points of advice, encouraging recent graduates to publish as early as possible because this is important to securing entry level positions. She also encourages recent graduates to take interest in teaching at community colleges to earn teaching experience as an instructor, rather than a teaching assistant. Finally she advises that graduates attending the AAA Annual Meeting to participate in discussions at the end of sessions by approaching anthropologists whose presentations they have found interesting or relevant to their career goals. This will allow graduates to make contacts with people that might lead to future collaborations, projects, or jobs. Khanduri recommended that recent graduates make use of Anthropology News and the opportunities it offers “to contribute and publish” as a platform that recent graduates can use “to advance their vision of possible futures for anthropology.” Galemba believes that recent graduates are instrumental in understanding the direction in which anthropology is going, particularly in terms of public anthropology and engaged anthropology. Jones advises recent graduates, regardless of their desire to take a more academic or more applied route, to “look at the value of anthropology to the public” in order to both connect with the public, and collectively displace many of the misrepresentations of anthropology.

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