Serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA

MAY 2016

I am in my second year serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA,  whose mission is to bring individuals and communities out of poverty. We make a year-long, full-time commitment to serve on a specific project at a nonprofit organization or public agency. I am also part of a growing demographic  of  ‘older adults’ serving within the AmeriCorps program, known more commonly as a learning opportunity for youth.   Add to the mix that I am also an artist contributing a unique skill set that is not normally associated with AmeriCorps service and you might be asking, so how is that working out?

Why the Arts?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018 New Mexico will need to fill 53,000 STEM-related jobs. To address this, STEM to STEAM is an initiative to add art and design to the agenda of STEM education and research in America. A recent rewrite of the nation’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) legislation will now integrate the arts into STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math). According to the latest research, for students to be prepared and job ready in the new economy, creativity and innovation are just as essential as reading and math.

How I got involved.

I have been a practicing artist for over 30 years, and like many mature artists out there, we have specific skills that are under utilized in todays’ society. In 2009  I started an R&D project called STEMarts to bring new media artists into the classroom to develop STEAM skills and explore new roles for the artist in our society. In 2015 I heard about Andrea Polli’s VISTA project, Help Build Capacity for STEAM Education in New Mexico, through The Social Media Workgroup (SMW) which investigates the social and ecological impacts of media technology through practice-based research. Based at the University of New Mexico, the group designs and creates projects related to media technology, environment and social change. As one of five VISTA’s selected for this project. my role as STEAM Innovator and Networker for Northern New Mexico, is to strengthen an existing network of partners and sustainable funding sources to support the education and employment of students,  along with emerging professionals, parents and other community members throughout the state in STEAM fields.

How has it worked out?

It is an exciting time because decision makers are waking up to the value of the arts, science and technology and there is much work to be done developing innovative STEAM educational programs and employment opportunities for students and educators. By pooling resources, reporting on outcomes, learning about ‘capacity building’, and laser focusing on a shared goal, I have been able to have more impact and reach than was possible on my own.

It has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I highly recommend to older adults and seasoned artists to explore the AmeriCorps job postings.  My advice is to find an organization that resonates with your passion and is doing similar projects. In this way the work becomes seamlessly aligned. I also would recommend to AmeriCorps administrators to seek out older adult artists as a valuable under utilized resource. Artists are innovative problem solvers, know how to make something out of nothing, and are always volunteering their time and donating work to help their community and make the world a better place. Who better to help carry out the AmeriCorps mission of ending poverty in America?

Below are some examples of projects have been developed as part of this collaboration to date: