Volunteering for the African Scientific Research Institute can be a rewarding experience. For college students, it provides an opportunity to move from classroom concepts and theories into real-world practice. They develop new skills and contribute to important research that shapes what we know about African American history. Perhaps more important, volunteers get to network with other students, faculty and community members — contacts that could prove invaluable as they plan their careers.
Although much of the work ASRI conducts is scientific in nature, volunteers do not need to have a science or medical background. ASRI does, however, encourage all of its volunteers to take the Cultural and Heritage Tourism course offered through the University of Illinois at Chicago. This graduate-level course helps participants understand what communities must do to develop successful programs linking the arts, humanities, history and tourism. It also, as ASRI Executive Director Jihad Muhammad explains, helps establish a common vocabulary among team members.
As you might expect, ASRI volunteers must be at least 18 years old and must be able to dedicate a certain number of hours a week to their volunteer work. They are not paid for this work but, instead, give their time, talent and abilities to the ASRI because they believe in what the organization is trying to achieve. Some volunteers do occasionally move into paid positions at the institute.
The process to become a volunteer is relatively straightforward. Interested individuals should contact ASRI’s volunteer coordinator directly, either by phone or e-mail. They will receive an application, which should be completed and returned for consideration. ASRI employees review the applications and invite candidates in for an interview. Once they are accepted into the program, volunteers receive their assignments. ASRI tries to match individuals to positions based on interest and skills, but can only offer positions that are currently open. If a position requires a set of technical skills, ASRI will provide the necessary training in some cases. Common volunteer activities include excavating at a dig site, providing support for symposia or workshops, collecting and analyzing survey data, assisting with administrative functions or participating in summer education programs at one of the archaeological field schools.
Regardless of their specific assignment, ASRI volunteers walk away from their efforts with a deeper appreciation of the important role slavery played in shaping the identities of African Americans. As Demetria Gallagher says, “Most people think of slavery as a negative thing. But the African Scientific Research Institute turns around the stigma of slavery by showing how African pioneers overcame serious obstacles to do great things. This turns a negative time in history into a positive.”