Adobe Youth Voices: Interview with Media Mentors

Igniting creative confidence in youth and empowering their voices to create with purpose.

Adobe Youth Voices Chicago

Adobe Youth Voices

Adobe Youth Voices is a global initiative of the Adobe Foundation whose mission is to ignite creative confidence in youth and empower them to use their voices to create with purpose. Currently in their 8th year of the program, AYV is working with thirty schools (6-12 grade) across the city. Through the support of a local media mentor and an online community of educators from almost one hundred countries, Chicago Public Schools educators have the ability to learn from others, share their knowledge and post student projects for feedback. Participant schools receive licenses for Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements and are trained throughout the year.

AYV’s progressive approach enables students to develop more interest in and ownership of their learning. They are gaining the skills and knowledge needed in the future and for reaching core standards, but are doing so in a way that is personal and, ultimately, more impactful. They have the ability to, for example, create a stop-motion video about something they are learning in science class, do a spoken word poem paired with original photographs to talk about a history lesson, or perhaps come up with something entirely on their own. It is the new book report, so to speak.

Laura Vogel: We’ve seen students who were previously disengaged or didn’t feel confident enough to raise their hand do a complete 180 when the approach to learning became more relevant to them. It’s really powerful to see those transformations and inspires us to continue doing what we do. And at the end of the day, if the project isn’t technically 100%, that’s ok, because what matters most is that it’s a personal expression that they are proud of.

Having mentors in your life who can help answer your questions no matter how silly they may seem is an integral part of development and personal evolution.

Chicago Artists Resource: What are the benefits to mentoring someone?

Amir George: The benefit of mentoring is being able to help youth navigate obstacles and feel supported. The classroom can become overwhelming for a teacher. The mentor often serves as a go-to for students needing extra assistance and support.

Ernest M. Whiteman III: The true benefit is not only passing on skills and knowledge to the next generation, but the relationship that is this back and forth, give and take of knowledge-sharing. The kids inspire me constantly in that they KNOW they will be knocked to the ground, metaphorically, and yet they will keep getting up and keep going forward, knowing it will happen again. You are supposed to be there to make sure they get up with confidence. To face the setbacks and the difficulties with them and seeing them come through is very much what the outcome should be of every mentorship.  

Samantha Spencer: I think it keeps my art honest. I strive to make work that tells the truth about my experience and about the world as I see it. I ask that the young people that I work with try to do the same.

Luke Sequeira: The benefits to mentoring people are numerous for both the student and the mentor. As a student who has been blessed enough to have great mentors and teachers in mylife, the number one benefit is high quality and efficient transfer of skills, knowledge and techniques. There is nothing more intriguing or challenging than being mentored by someone who has already embarked upon a similar creative journey. Mentors have the ability to efficiently express and compress years worth of experience into single digestible lessons that continue to unfold long after the mentor is gone.

I have personally always seen mentorship as a symbiotic relationship between two beings. As much as a mentor as may be sharing with a student, the student always offers a fresh perspective on an old challenge or a new way of framing an idea. The primary benefit of mentorships is that both the mentor and student walk away refreshed and energized with a whole new toolkit with which they can approach their work.  

What does the student receive from a mentor?

Spencer: Students, hopefully, find a mentor that values them and their unique experience in the world. I think that knowing that someone thinks your ideas and the expression of those ideas is important is a powerful thing. It allows students to feel confident in advocating for themselves and sharing their point of view.

Sequeira: The student receives an experienced guide who has already walked the path many times. This helps students to avoid pitfalls, create efficiencies in their work flow and receive time-polished techniques and pointers. Through my experiences, I view mentors as Sherpas defined as "elite mountaineers and experts in their local terrain." A great mentor will not only increase the rate at which a student can enhance their awareness, skills and techniques, a great mentor knows how to challenge students and push them towards their own limits while keeping them inspired to complete their journey.

George: Working one-on-one with students can be very impactful and inspiring for them. The student gets the support they need to lead their peers through similar obstacles. The mentor offers exposure to new ideas and the opportunity for the student to develop skills and knowledge. 

What do the students get beyond the answer you just gave to the previous question?

Spencer: At Adobe Youth Voices, students receive technical expertise in Photoshop and Premiere. Also, I discuss aesthetics and ask students to begin to develop their own aesthetic preferences and make intentional decisions as the artist telling the story.

Whiteman: I think that the students find that they have an adult willing and able to hear them, to listen, and to offer advice. An adult who is not a part of their school day that allows them to speak, to get into debates, to make mistakes. An adult to guide them to a place where they can see the paths back to the goal. Most students I meet cannot help but see the teacher as a part of the school. When I step in as a mentor I'm seen as a visitor, even a friend in some ways. I am there to help them discover their confidence – not to find it for them – but steer them in directions so that they discover that confidence for themselves. By listening, being interested in what they say, you open that up.

George: The mentor can also help reduce anxiety that some students may have when having to complete certain projects, in addition to the students gaining guidance on professional and artistic development.

Sequeira: Mentors are great references and networks. If I cannot help you as a mentor I can always refer a student to another mentor who may be able to connect with the student in ways that I can't. Mentors also provide students with a wealth of resources for their questions. I know that anytime I embark on a new creative challenge I have five close friends and mentors I can call to unload all of my questions on. Having mentors in your life who can help answer your questions no matter how silly they may seem is an integral part of development and personal evolution. 

What are some examples of those extra special moments working with youth?

Sequeira: I have been working with youth for over seven years in a variety of capacities. The extra special moments usually come in the form of a look with a twinkle in the student's eye. One story most recently was having two students in my DJ class from last year who referred all of their underclassmen friends for this years class. When students I had never even met before come up to me telling me they hoped to develop theirs skills in my workshop, it feels like you are passing the torch of a lost art on to a new generation that will preserve and protect it.

Whiteman: This year a group of students at one of my schools has really taken charge in this year's video project. They recognized right away what they needed to work out the problems before they even picked up a camera. One student in particular, who sat out most of last year until Luke gave her a task, jumped right into the fray. This year, she is in a leadership role, guiding the younger students and is more keen on speaking up and sticking with the plan.

Spencer: This summer I worked with a group of young people and adult artist/mentors to create a multimedia art installation at Street Level Youth Media. The process was intense because we had twenty people coming to the table to create a cohesive installation with various components including video, graphic design, sound design, and photography. In six weeks, we developed the idea for the installation, did all the production for the project, and staged an opening exhibition (See a video of the installation). The final product was something I am very proud of, but more important than that was the dedication, deep discussion, and sense of community developed during the program. When given the opportunity, I think young people want to work hard and want to think, they just need the spaces to support that.

George: When you see a youth come out of their shell. Some students can be nervous about expressing themselves. The best thing is to watch them breakthrough, and to see what you have taught them being put to use.

What do the youth think about what they’re learning?

George: Its different for everyone. Some students can be really bored with what they’re learning. They all know they have to reach a certain level of education. Apart of my job is encouraging enthusiasm, so the student can have a more positive outlook about what they are learning.

Whiteman: I don't think they think about one thing in particular. They think about many things, the project itself, its theme, what are the steps, how will they visualize an idea or statement, how long do they have for this portion of the project and so one. The fact that they are capable of multitasking will serve them well in their futures.

Sequeira: Obviously this varies from student to student. Overall, I think digital media is so integral in empowering student voice and putting power tools in the hands of our youth that the general level of excitement about the work is typically extremely high and the thoughts in their heads about what they are learning vary greatly. What students are thinking about while they are learning is probably a question best suited for students themselves since the lens with which each student views the world is so unique to their personal journey. I think for all the students that I have mentored, the most common questions in students minds while they are learning are: "Why am I learning this?" "Why is this relevant to me? "How does this help me to become who I want to be?"

Spencer: Sometimes it’s difficult for young people to not have a “right” answer, and in the arts I am not looking for an answer at all. This can sometimes be an adjustment for young people. On the other hand, some jump head-first into the technology in ways that adults are afraid to. I try to encourage young people to explore programs and make sure that they know that exploring and making mistakes is a valid way of learning. I also teach them about using the undo button…


For more information on how to become a participating school, please get in touch with Laura Vogel: 

In both her personal and professional life, Program Manager Laura Vogel's inspiration and drive are rooted in the arts, civic engagement and youth empowerment. She has worked in web & graphic design, event production & film programming for domestic and international festivals, and is a volunteer for Chicago Cares and Young Chicago Authors. Laura has been involved with Adobe Youth Voices since 2011 and is excited for the future of the program in Chicago as well as the potential to collaborate with students in other countries.  

Ernest M. Whiteman III is a Northern Arapaho filmmaker, writer and artist who lives in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. When not working as a Media Mentor with Adobe Youth Voices and Chicago Public Schools, he teaches an upper-level course at the University of Wisconsin Parkside titled "No One Ever Sees Indians: Native American in the Media". He is also the Director of First Nations Film and Video Festival, Inc. a 501c3 organization dedicated to promoting and providing venues for Native American filmmakers across the country. This year's fall festival runs November 5 - 8, 20014. He self-published a short stories collection and continues to add to his ledger art project. In addition to his work, writing and art, Ernest is also in production on a feature film adaptation of HAMLET, which is a contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare's play, which features an all-Native American cast, that is due in the fall of 2016.

Luke Sequeira is a mixed multi-media artist specializing in experimental sound design and experimental music. Currently, Luke is a media mentor for the Adobe Youth Voices program at the Chicago Public Schools and The Convergence Academies. Additionally Luke is a founding member and Director of The Elder Tree, an arts collective that produces large scale live visual and aural experiences for North Coast Music Festival and the Bridgeport Art Center. Luke also holds a monthly DJ residency at 8A5E at the Bridgeport Art Center.

Samantha Spencer (Samantha Lee) is a musician and Digital Media teacher based in Chicago. Her music can be heard at and her collaborations with youth can be seen at

Amir George is a motion picture artist and film curator from Chicago. His video work and curated programs have been screened in festivals and galleries across the US, Canada, and Europe. Amir’s work delves into installation, cinema, and performance. In addition to founding Cinema Culture, a grassroots film programming organization, Amir is also the co-curator of Black Radical Imagination a touring experimental short film program. He currently teaches and produces media with youth throughout Chicagoland and presents programs at cultural centers and academic institutions nationwide.

Published by CAR_Jeff on Tue, 10/28/2014 - 12:32pm