Smithsonian Secretary’s Youth Advisory Council

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Be a part of the national conversation
about the future of museums.
Join the Smithsonian Secretary’s
Youth Advisory Council!

Program Overview

In 2016, Secretary David Skorton established the Smithsonian Secretary’s Youth Advisory Council as a way for the Smithsonian to gain advice from young people in the Washington, D.C., community and insight on how well it resonates with area youth. Now, our local youth have the opportunity to participate through the Upcountry History Museum – Furman University, a Smithsonian Affiliate.

The Smithsonian Secretary’s Youth Advisory Council ensures that the thoughts and ideas of the young people in our community help guide the important work we do at the Institution. By giving feedback directly to Smithsonian leadership on our programming and how we engage visitors, we can better involve this important group, and ensure we are doing all that we can to meet their needs.

“They taught me much, not only about their individual perspectives on the world of cultural institutions in general, but about their collective view of what Smithsonian leaders and staff can and will learn from a dedicated set of teen advisors.” ~ Dr. Skorton on outcomes of the SSYAC 2016-2017 first cohort.

Teen Eligibility Requirements:

  • Age: 16-18 (Note: 16 and 17 year olds will need parent/guardian permission to apply and participate)
  • Location: Students must be able to travel to the Upcountry History Museum (540 Buncombe Street, Greenville 29601) for each meeting
  • Education: Must be enrolled full-time in high school as either a Junior or Senior

Basic Selection Criteria:

Teens who have a background or interest in the arts, humanities and/or sciences is a plus, and:

  • A general knowledge and understanding of the Smithsonian Institution ( or their Smithsonian Affiliate;
  • An ability to articulate ideas and solutions regarding teen issues and concerns;
  • The ability to interact constructively with peers in a group setting;
  • The ability to fulfill commitments;
  • The ability to engage in community outreach with diverse populations;
  • An interest in developing leadership skills; and
  • An interest and motivation to volunteer their time with the Smithsonian Institution.

How to apply:

Complete the online application by August 25. Email your essay to Elizabeth Gunter, Director of Education and Programs,, by August 25.
Essay: In a short 1-2 page essay, please tell us about yourself by answering the following:

  1. Why are you interested in being a part of the SSYAC?
  2. List 3-5 of your top interests (could be school subjects, extra-curricular activities, hobbies); and
  3. List 3-5 of your favorite musicians, artists, writers, thinkers, scientists, or leaders (local or global).

Final candidates will be required to come to the Upcountry History Museum for an in person interview the week of August 28th. The Museum will be selecting 2 teens to participate in this inaugural SSYAC National Program.

Roles and Responsibilities of SSYAC National Members:

  1. Provide youth perspectives to the head of the Smithsonian (The Secretary) through active meeting participation and email exchanges.
  2. Attend four in-person meetings at their local Affiliates, which will link through video technology to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.:
     Wednesday, September 27, 2017 4:00 p.m.—6:00 p.m.
     Wednesday, November 8, 2017 4:00 p.m.—6:00 p.m.
     Wednesday, February 7, 2018 4:00 p.m.—6:00 p.m.
     Wednesday, April 11, 2018 4:00 p.m.—6:00 p.m.
    Anticipated Program Schedule:
    3:45 p.m.—4:00 p.m. EST Teens arrive at Affiliate museum
    4:00 p.m.—4:45 p.m. EST Tour or Activity—jointly with teens in D.C.
    4:45 p.m.—5:00 p.m. EST Food/Snack Break
    5:00 p.m.—6:00 p.m. EST Dialogue/Meeting with Secretary (virtually)
  3. Engage in discussions* with the Secretary about issues and questions related to the theme of “Technology and Dialogue”:
     Opening a conversation and creating dialogues about big issues between the public and museums
     Use of leading digital/electronic technology in museums
     Why in-person museum visits are important and how the Smithsonian can reach 1 billion visitors
     How should museums address conflicts (such as hate speech) with the public
    [* Topics are subject to change based upon current events when meetings convene]
  4. Complete mini-projects and assignments between meetings which includes thinking critically about a proposed idea or issue, researching it, and preparing a short response to share with the group.
  5. Complete an online Orientation to the program.
  6. Complete the Registration Process in SOLAA.

SSYAC Teen Frequently Asked Questions


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Smithsonian Secretary’s Youth Advisory Council
Teen Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of participating in the SSYAC?

Service in the SSYAC is a unique opportunity for teens, ages 16-18 to influence the Smithsonian’s impact locally and nationally. Members of the SSYAC discuss their ideas and concerns regarding various issues to the Smithsonian
Secretary. In doing so, members gain valuable experience, as well as personal and professional skills as they engage in:

  • Dialogue with the Smithsonian Secretary
  • Collaboration with other teens
  • Special tours at Smithsonian museums
  • Meetings designed to enhance leadership, professional development, and life skills.
  • Potentially fulfill school-required Community Service Hours
  • Representative of Affiliate’s teen voice
  • Certificate of Recognition and/or letter from the Smithsonian Secretary
  • Inclusion of views and opinions shared in a final report

What is the time commitment for members of the SSYAC?

About 20 hours total. Teens selected to serve on the SSYAC commit to successfully completing the program. A term on the Council will last from September 2017—April 2018 (with the winter and summer off). During a term, members are required to attend four meetings lasting two hours each. In addition, between meetings, members complete assignments—they may be asked to present them during a future session or may be shared with
Smithsonian leadership and included in the final annual report. Members serve for one term, with the option to renew for a second term if both the teen and Smithsonian and/or Affiliate agree to do so, and providing a member’s
age has not exceeded 18 and has not graduated high school. Teens may not serve more than two consecutive terms. There may be occasional, optional extra activities that SSYAC members are invited to join.

Are members of the SSYAC paid?

No. Members of the SSYAC are volunteers during a term of office. Therefore, they are not paid. However, local members may request reimbursement for public transportation costs (i.e. metro and bus fare) by alerting the program manager, who will be discrete about any requests; finances should not be a barrier to participating in the SSYAC program. In many instances, schools prohibit students who receive community service hours from receiving
payments for their participation.

Do I need to know a lot about the Smithsonian Institution in order to become a member of the SSYAC?

Not at all. Teens selected to serve on the SSYAC do not need to be experts on the Smithsonian Institution. However, teens do need to have an interest in learning more about the Smithsonian and its Affiliates. After serving a term on the SSYAC, we hope that teens increase their knowledge about the Smithsonian and its Affiliates.

Where can I find out more information about the Smithsonian Institution?

There are many sources of information about the Smithsonian Institution, including its main website, which hosts information about current activities, as well as our priorities, vision, and mission and strategic plans.

Where can I find out about the Smithsonian Secretary?

Dr. David J. Skorton is the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian. He assumed his position July 1, 2015. Dr. Skorton oversees 19 museums and galleries, 20 libraries, the National Zoo and 14 education and research centers, including
the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. He is responsible for an annual budget of $1.3 billion, 6,500 employees and
12,000+ volunteers. Read more about Dr. Skorton. He is also on Twitter @DavidJSkorton.

Find Out More