Shirley Brown Alleyne, ’94: Sharing a Love of History and Museums
December 7, 2017 by Lisa McMahon, MA'09
When the Teen Innovators program at the Brooklyn Historical Society received the 2017 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the nation’s highest honor for youth programs, Shirley Brown Alleyne, ’94, the BHS’s manager of teaching and learning, couldn’t have been more delighted.
“I was so proud of the students for everything they did, because they worked so hard,” she says. “This program means so much to me and to the students--the award just heightens and strengthens the pride we already have for what they are doing now.”
The Teen Innovators program, a partnership with the Brooklyn Navy Yard, was established in 2012 to provide students with opportunities to explore careers while learning about workplace etiquette, professional writing and communication, and the history of work and workers at the yard over the past century. Since it was established, Teen Innovators has served 130 students, all from Title I schools in the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s surrounding communities, students who otherwise would not have been aware of the employment opportunities offered by the BNY.
As program manager and instructor, Shirley and her staff teach students how to apply the tools of the historian--critical thinking, analytical research, and question crafting-- in the workplace. Site visits to the BNY’s tenants connect students with top executives in the technology, manufacturing, and design industries to learn more about the businesses. Participants also learn vital job-seeking skills, including how to develop a résumé, research a company, present themselves professionally, and conduct an informational interview. Midway through the program, students are selected for paid internships with a BNY tenant company. During the last session, 96 percent were chosen for these internships, which included bookkeeping, marketing, creating apps, and working in a virtual reality studio. Many students continue to work at the BNY after their internships are completed as paid summer interns, and one was actually offered a full-time position. Nearly all of them (99%) planned to attend college after their high school graduation.
“The goal is for students to use these tools so they can go out and use them in their own careers, whether it's here in the Navy Yard or not,” Shirley says.
The TI program has been so well-received by the students that Shirley developed additional opportunities for them to participate. High school students can come back to the program as mentors, leading the teen innovators while working toward their own paid internships, while program alumni who have graduated high school and are enrolled in college can return as a TI fellow.
In addition to the TI program, Shirley oversees other educational programs offered by the BHS, including the Cultural Afterschool Adventures program, through which elementary school children research a topic with historical significance in their communities and then write a book about what they have learned. The books are distributed to students, their families, and their schools, and a copy is added the BHS’s Othmer Library.
“I love seeing what the students come up with,” Shirley says. “Watching the students as they're learning, and their reactions to what they've learned, absolutely blows me away, because I just love seeing the 'ah-ha’ moment that they have, and they tend to have multiple ‘ah-ha’ moments.”
Shirley’s role as program manager is the ideal combination of her love for museums and history, a passion that began when she was just a child.
“My dad was always reading a history book,” she explains, adding that her father was a WWII Buffalo Soldier. “He instilled in me a love of history since the time I was born.
“Since I was two years old, my mother would take me to museums,” she continued. “I always had a pad and pencil, and I always loved being in museums. My very first job, when I was 16 years old, was teaching at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. I was their very first teenage education trainee, and I loved what I was doing. I knew this was the field I would go into eventually.”