One Stone: Then and Now
I figured I could kill a whole flock of birds with one stone: by attending CLX meetings, I could network, learn, potentially get a grant AND force my dissertation chair to look at my research more! Oh, glorious, multitasking day!
As I may have previously mentioned, I had heard about the Chicago Learning Exchange from various connections at University of Illinois at Chicago and the museum industry. In early 2016, I went to one meeting in Pilsen, for Robert Friedman’s going-away party, where I saw my dissertation chair. After talking to multiple individuals over way too much coffee and bubbly water, the thought suddenly dawned on me. I figured I could kill a whole flock of birds with one stone! (Seriously, Dr. Phillips deserves sainthood after dealing with me).
Connections and Learning —
Even as I finished my doctorate under Nate’s (i.e. Dr. Phillips) guidance at the College of Education at UIC in 2019, CLX continued to be a place of intellectual curiosity, inspiration, and camaraderie, offering different opportunities for the youth in the programs I served, as well as professional development and learning opportunities for myself and my co-workers. From screen printing workshops to free field trips to ComEd, I usually came back from CLX meetings with a pile of things to put in our office or to blast out to my families through email.
In fact, when Maurice Swinney, the chief equity officer of Chicago Public Schools, came to talk to CLX at our February 2019 meeting about out of school learning and equity, I found myself taking pictures of his slides. I often take pictures when I participate in a session at CLX; like many of the youth we work with, I’m a visual learner and memorize material best when they’re in a picture in front of me. However, the quotes were so on point about equity and learning, that I found myself using them at the beginning of my dissertation, which focused on equity and informal science education. I still use them, during volunteer education training with Scouts as well.
The ability to learn new things while attending CLX sessions is part and parcel of what happens here, along with meeting new friends and learning about new promotions. I may be partial due to my background as a youth participant in Young Chicago Authors, where our apartment-based classrooms in Wicker Park were stuffed with different flyers for poetry slams and gallery opportunities. Or perhaps my predisposition comes from my experience as an AmeriCorps volunteer on the rural Oregon Coast, where I’d be listening to union fisherman one moment and tribal youth the next... Regardless, I’ve found that the ability to shake hands, write down new possibilities, and craft partnerships across different organizations is in fostering a rich ecosystem of learning, especially in an area of incredible diversity like Chicago.
Funnily enough, CLX meetings still are filled with networking opportunities and reunions for me. For those of you who don’t know, Maria Hibbs (former Executive Director of CLX) is married to my high school principal, David Hibbs! Talking to them as an adult at work within the learning and nonprofit sector has been a trip, for sure. An extra bit of irony? I was voted ‘Most Likely To Spend Time in the Principal’s Office’, my senior year at Morgan Park Academy. Both my position as Director of STEAM and Innovation for Boy Scouts of America and Chicago Learning Exchange, I’ve been in many principals’ offices, not because of dress code rebellion, but it’s because I want to bring hands-on learning and digital literacy to youth through both in-school and after-school enrichment.
AsBack when I started coming into meetings in early 2016, I remember the world looking a lot different then it is now, for both good and bad reasons. I had a different role at my organization when I began, and usually came to CLX meetings alone, unsupported. Now, as a director, I hold a lot more input in my organization, and my team has expanded to include passionate, brilliant young women who have joined me at CLX on many occasions. Even if one of us has to miss a session, one is usually there, snapping pictures and texting key notes.
It Takes a Village —
Not everything is a giant platter of Panera Bread pastries though (albeit, always one of my favorite parts of the monthly CLX meetup!). A lot more earthquakes have rocked my professional world, and a lot more terror has been injected into our daily lives, whether it is by pandemic or domestic terrorism, racism bubbling into an inferno or doxxing of personal information.
But this is where CLX, community, and hands-on learning, come into play.
Whether it’s making silly ornaments at the CLX Christmas party, coming to a Zoom meeting, or having a shout-out session at a museum in the south suburbs… The rooms may be different, especially right now, but I can guarantee they will be engaging, interesting, and leave you with connections and resources both new and old, thanks to the sharing that happens within the community.
Evolution is, at its most base, how organisms survive through adaptation to their environment. As our programs have shifted to distance and online, we’ve had to adjust and make room for new, be that for in-person or online engagement. The ability to come together and talk about what is affecting us, what rules are at play, and how we can brainstorm solutions — that is the key take-away from learning. I’m thrilled that I’m able to practice this with my fellow associates at Chicago Learning Exchange. It’s one I hope that we keep, even after the very strange year that 2020 turned out to be.