On Mary’s Mind – November 2010

Mary Odell Butler

The leaves are almost gone, kind of a melancholy time of year.  I’m figuring out what to pack for the AAA meetings.  When I get there, as is almost always the case, I will look around the hotel lobby and realize that Christmas has descended while I wasn’t paying attention.

In my last column, I said goodbye to you all – prematurely it would seem. This I promise is really, really my last column.  By the time you read this, Tim Wallace will have taken over as President of NAPA and I will have moved on to Past President.  I’m sure that Tim will be equally entertaining.

This is an awkward time to write a column since the annual meeting will happen between now and the time that you read this.  So I will talk about things that will be considered in New Orleans that you might want to follow whether you attend the meeting or not.

The issues on the agenda for the 2010 NAPA GC Meeting are discussions of how to support mentoring and membership.  These activities are two of the most important things NAPA does.  Mentorship of practitioners at all stages of their careers is critical to sharing the lessons learned from our experience.  We usually think of mentoring as a direct mentor matches between practitioners or between practitioners and students.  But the mentoring relationship can go beyond defining a professional identity and getting a job to become an ongoing support to all of the partners.  For example, matches between mentors and “mentees” need not be between senior and junior people, nor need they be one-on-one.  Creative thinking around co-mentoring of peers and group mentorship may help sustain interest and commitment, especially for those of us who work in environments where they are the only anthropologist or one of a few.  Moving toward these new kinds of mentorship will need people to do the creative thinking.

Working to promote NAPA to potential members by reaching out to important constituencies also matters a lot.  In fact the survival of NAPA depends on it.  Our numbers have declined steadily in recent years from a high of 599 members in December 2007 to a current level of 539 in September 2010.  It has been lower than this – 497 in February 2010 and is moving in the right direction.  The NAPA membership committee is presiding over a small revolution in our approach to promoting NAPA and reaching out to potential new members.  During the past year, this group has created a new member welcome team and draft packet, collaborated on a NAPA networking event at AAA with extensive outreach, created a membership general flyer, and conducted a survey of past NAPA presidents regarding their views of NAPA’s mission and place in AAA.  They have worked with other committees to raise NAPA’s visibility during the 2010 AAA meeting in New Orleans.  This kind of creativity and sustained attention to a critical function of NAPA is an example of what can be done if we can find the people to do it.

NAPA uses Special Interest ‘groups (SIGs) to focus on specific areas in which our members practice.  One of our early successes with SIGs was our collaboration with the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC).  This highly successful conference annually brings together scholars from industry and academia to focus on designated issues in ethnographic practice in business and industry.  NAPA and AAA were the “incubators” for EPIC, providing a fiscal agent and administrative services and editing of the EPIC Proceedings.  In 2008, EPIC spun off to become a 501c3.  NAPA sits on the EPIC board and, along with AAA, is still involved in a more limited fashion.  Today NAPA is working on a similar initiative in the NAPA-OT Field School.  This interdisciplinary program has created a field school in Guatemala where graduate students in anthropology and occupational therapy can work together to build their skills.

The NAPA Evaluation Interest Group (EAIG) has maintained a lis-serve for anthropologists who work with evaluation for several years.  An important accomplishment of the EAIG has been its efforts to reinforce an understanding of anthropology in the larger evaluation community.  This year the EAIG presented a session, Evaluation Anthropology Praxis:  Charting a New Future, in the Presidential Strand (session highlighted by the Program Committee) at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Evaluation Association. Following the session, NAPA sponsored a reception for participants.  This kind of visibility at the conference of another organization with which we have overlapping interests raises NAPA’s profile and can bring us new members among anthropologist-evaluators.

Both of these SIG models demonstrate ways that NAPA can expand its reach and link members to important practice communities outside of anthropology through SIGs.  These connections bring us many advantages as practicing anthropologists.  They promote an understanding of anthropology in broader contexts, enhancing our credibility and that of anthropology itself with potential employers, clients and colleagues.  Like everything else that NAPA does, the success of SIGs depends on the commitment of NAPA members to design, manage and expand the services of SIGs to our membership.

For the past year or so, the NAPA Governing Council has focused on leadership development.  This means an organized effort to facilitate people becoming involved in NAPA activities in such a way that we are always refreshing the pool of NAPA leadership.  We have made an effort to track members who want to join committees and follow through on their interest.  We really, really would like for you to join us in making NAPA work.

You may be picking up a theme here.  We need you to volunteer.  There is always a wave of enthusiasm after the annual meeting as NAPA members try to act on resolutions to “get involved”.  I strongly encourage you to follow through on this impulse.  As I leave my term as NAPA President, my mind goes back to 1995 when, after ten years of alienation from all things anthropological, I went to a workshop where I realized that if I didn’t want to be lonely at anthropology meetings, I needed to give something back to the organization.  I volunteered to work with the NAPA Communications Committee, something that I wasn’t very confident about.  What did I know about websites and what it takes to make them useful and attractive?  But I jumped in anyway and people taught me what I needed to know.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Some would argue that I have taken “getting involved” to overkill.  But I have never regretted taking that first step.  It was so easy to do and it has yielded such big personal and professional benefits.

So come on in.  The NAPA website (www.practicinganthropology.org) has information on what committees do and who is chair of each committee.  You can email the chair of any committee(s) that look good to you.  Or you can email Tim Wallace (tmwallace@mindspring.com) or me (maryobutler@verizon.net) and we’ll pass your request on to the right person.

Thanks for all you have done for me and for all you will do for me in the future.  Over and out. – Mary

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