SfAA President Sherylyn BrillerSherylyn Briller
Spring, 2019

The SfAA 2019 meeting in Portland was great! Hats off to Michael Paolisso and the Program Committee for planning a meeting featuring diverse and important work by applied and practicing social scientists. From Local Day on, we saw what many talented and determined people are doing to “make a difference” in their communities.

I was intrigued to learn more about how anthropologists and colleagues are influencing policy and public opinion, training a next generation, transforming institutions, decolonizing anthropology (and other areas) – and working hard on solving problems. I am very hopeful about what we can achieve going forward. People are motivated to work on issues about which they care deeply for many different reasons. They may be optimistic, they may be angry, they may be fighting for social justice – all can be compelling reasons. At this time, it is highly important to find out more about what our members want from our professional organization and how they see us all together fulfilling our mission.

In my role as the SfAA President, I will work hard to help guide our organization as we turn 80 next year and look towards turning 100 - only twenty years from now. SfAA has an impressive history of doing, supporting and promoting applied social sciences. We are a well-known and well-respected professional association. I believe our next chapter can be very exciting and impactful; we should get ready for it now. I am happy to announce that the SfAA Board is launching a strategic visioning process to prepare for our next phase. This process will enable us to assess our environment, consider our current strengths and weaknesses, and help us to proceed with dynamic planning for growth.

By embarking on strategic planning, we will be able to better understand how our organization should consider a changing landscape. This shift includes key transitions in anthropology, professional organizations, and in the world. The SfAA Board discussed focusing on three main areas first. They are:  

Key Areas


A Sustainable SfAA

Financial Health and Membership 

People and Leadership Development

Building organizational capacity and professional opportunities

Maximizing Anthropological Impact

Making a Difference in the World


We are excited to get started and do an initial inventory of where we are at and think about priority setting. By engaging in the strategic planning process, we will be ready to make new strategies, goals and objectives for what the SfAA would like to achieve in the future. We want to offer the most benefit to our members – whatever their current career and life stage. As someone who came up through the SfAA, this goal is both personally and professionally important to me. I know many others in the organization feel the same way. We are very excited to engage fully and deeply in this conversation with our current – and hopefully our future members!

In that spirit, I would now like to share a few things that happened at the SfAA student party and later on. The student party was a well-attended and animated gathering! We ate copiously from what some have said was the best buffet of the conference. While the atmosphere was fun and lighthearted, some students (and others) candidly mentioned how important it was to them that this food was available. More than one person in the room that night told me it took all of their money to get to Portland and they would have been hungry if the SfAA had not ensured that food was plentiful at these events. I heard that message loud and clear – that even at our meeting, people are concerned about food insecurity. I guarantee you that I will not forget that message during my time as SfAA president and afterwards. I want to pause here and thank again our Society’s generous donors, who especially make sure that student participation and travel is consistently supported as a priority.

Before I close, I would like to share (with permission!) a bit of an email I received from Mary Vickers of Rollins College in Florida. She is an undergraduate studying International Relations and Spanish. I met her hanging out with her advisor at the SfAA Student Party. Here’s what Mary wrote to me right after the conference:

“I just wanted to reach out to say how nice it was to meet you at SfAA…As I mentioned, this was my first conference ever, and it was an amazing experience. I plan to be, as you said, an SfAA member for life! …Being able to present at this very student-friendly conference has bolstered my confidence in my decision to pursue applied anthro…

See you in Albuquerque!

I think Mary’s words speak for themselves and I will take them to heart as we think about SfAA’s future.  And to close, as Mary says, I hope that we will “See you in Albuquerque”. We have a great Program Chair Lois Stanford and we know the Committee is already working hard to make a memorable 80thannual meeting in New Mexico. The program theme and location could not be more timely: “Cultural Citizenship and Diversity in Complex Societies”. The meeting will be held from March 17-21, 2020. We look forward to seeing and working with you in the coming year!

©Society for Applied Anthropology 

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