NAPA’s Mentorship Program

Paths to Professionalization

The NAPA Mentor program was created to provide guidance and support along the path from university training to the world of professional anthropology. Prior to the NAPA Mentor Program’s creation, there was no path at the American Anthropological Association for aspiring professional anthropologists to identify assistance and create useful professional relationships. The NAPA Mentor Program is the oldest, continuously operating mentoring effort in AAA. Cathleen Crain and Madelyn (Miki) Iris were the founding co-chairs of the committee. The NAPA Mentor Program was formed in 1990 to provide professional assistance to graduate students as they worked to make the transition from academic training to professional employment. At that point in our discipline’s maturation, the professional aspect of anthropology was defining itself and the committee co-chairs were exploring ways for NAPA to provide leadership in the development of professional resources. With the establishment of the Mentor Program, new professionals and graduate students had a consistent resource for that assistance.

In many instances, graduate students mistakenly believe that a professional anthropology career is a second choice and that it is a holding space until one is able to obtain an academic position.
Since its inception, the Mentor Program has provided hundreds of graduate students and new professional anthropologists with rich and insightful perspectives on career opportunities in a wide variety of contexts. A central feature of the Mentor Program is the identification of a professional mentor committed to working with the new/aspiring professional to address a variety of campus to career challenges. For many, the relationship between mentor and mentee has created a safe space in which to ask questions about moving into the professional world without fear of being judged or critiqued. The mentors have all personally navigated the step from the security of the academic world where the rules and boundaries have been carefully learned to the professional world where the edges seem to fade as one attempts to define what they are. Through the Mentor Program, participants have the opportunity to work with professional anthropologists who are actively defining professional anthropology in its breadth and depth, and are offering to share their knowledge and experience with the mentee. At the same time, the mentee has the opportunity to push boundaries and explore the “what if’s” and “where those thoughts can go” in the mentoring relationship as well as exploring new professional networks.  

There continues to be a challenge in defining Professional, Practicing and Applied (PPA) anthropology as a career path equal to one of teaching. In many instances, graduate students mistakenly believe that a professional anthropology career is a second choice and that it is a holding space until one is able to obtain an academic position. For many professional anthropologists, PPA has been the first and only career choice. Students beginning to sort their options need to keep this in mind as they expand their knowledge about professional careers; they must learn the values, language, and culture of the PPA working worlds.

The Mentor program continues to provide Mentor/Mentee matches for graduate level anthropology students and new professionals. Matches are based on the Mentee’s interests in professional development and may include resume reviews, consultation on career paths, and professional network development. And, the relationships may move from mentoring to being professional colleagues. Mentees have also engaged in NAPA committee work and grown into leadership roles in NAPA. In recent years, the program has grown from providing individual mentoring assistance only to graduate and new professionals to addressing undergraduate students’ concerns about how they can identify academic programs that support professional careers.

Mentor matches have involved professional anthropologists working in the Federal Government for agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute, the US Department of Agriculture, and the Veterans Administration. Professional anthropologists working in advertising and business firms, design firms, and business schools have also been mentors. And, PPAs working as sole practitioners or in international development have also provided their support for mentees. Although there are robust support programs in archaeology, especially in cultural resource management, the Mentor Program has provided mentoring support to graduate students working into the profession. Mentors have ranged from, for example, sole practitioners to single professional anthropologists working in large organizations, to those who are part of networks of professional anthropologists in complex multi-site federal agencies.

While the original focus of the Mentor Program was on providing support to individuals based in the United States, over recent years inquires have come from Austria, Argentina, Britain, Canada, France, Hong Kong, India, South Africa, Lithuania, and Malawi. There has also been interest from graduate students finishing their degrees in the US who are from outside the US. This growing international interest in the Mentor program appears to reflect a growing awareness of and interest in PPA careers.

The Mentor Program can be accessed through the NAPA website under the tab, “Careers – Mentoring.” The Mentoring tab includes three topics, the Mentoring FAQs, the Mentor Match Form and Mentors. The FAQs provide seven categories of questions and answers. Topic 1 is an introduction to applied anthropology. Topics 2 and 3 focus on undergraduate education and applied anthropology. Topics 4 and 5 focus on questions and responses about graduate education in applied anthropology. Topic 6 are questions about an applied degree and Topic 7 raises the question “what options you have for employment.” The FAQs are not designed to answer all questions about PPA, however, they provide guidance and an opportunity to widen an individual’s perspective on what careers could exist in PPA. Through the Mentor Program, in combination with the NAPA Instant Mentoring opportunity and the NAPA Careers Expo at the AAA Annual meeting, NAPA offers a variety of opportunities to explore the breadth and complexity of professional anthropological careers.

Nathaniel (Niel) Tashima is a Managing Partner in LTG Associates, the oldest anthropologically based consulting firm in North America. He co-authored NAPA’s Ethics Guidelines in 1987 and is a Past President of NAPA. He chairs NAPA’s Mentor Committee and was elected to the AAA Executive Board in November of 2016.

To submit contributions to NAPA Section News, please contact contributing editor Alice Larotonda (Alice_Larotonda@brown.edu).

 

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