Meet Revise: Ivel Gontan

IVEL headshot

August 18th, 2023

We are excited to share our interview with Ivel Gontan, the Center Manager of the REVISE team.

“The field of ISE is in various stages of grappling and coming to terms with the DEAI (diversity, equity, access, and inclusion) wave and trying to reckon with what it means personally for them and their organizations. I think the Center could provide a space for people to connect and share some of these quandaries, hesitations, wins, challenges, etc.”

What drew you to STEM? To informal science?

I was a latecomer to the STEM world; I started getting interested in STEM and informal science education (ISE) when I was in graduate school studying Museum Studies. It was kind of a two-pronged draw-in for me: I wanted to work someplace fun and I wanted to do good in the world. Science museums became my niche! I ended up writing my graduate thesis on successful strategies for engaging Latina girls in STEM and learning SO much around the barriers that keep marginalized communities out of the sciences. Throughout my professional trajectory, there has been an evolution and refinement of a vision of a fair and just scientific enterprise, where diverse perspectives are not only represented but valued on the same terms as the dominant ones. I see science museums and other informal learning spaces as primed and essential for providing access and inspiration in ways not available through the more formal areas of learning. Some examples include opportunities for family learning, more hands on ways to relate to phenomena, and connection to careers and mentors. I care deeply about people of the global majority having access to opportunities that will improve their quality of life and this career has given me a venue to bring that into fruition. Beyond access, I think that there is potential for ISE to redefine what it means to do science and who gets to participate in scientific endeavors.

What are you most excited about or looking forward to accomplishing while working on REVISE?

I am looking forward to many things! I think one of the most enticing aspects of this role is the potential to help co-create a shared language around equity in STEM. The field of ISE is in various stages of grappling and coming to terms with the DEAI (diversity, equity, access, and inclusion) wave and trying to reckon with what it means personally for them and their organizations. I think the Center could provide a space for people to connect and share some of these quandaries, hesitations, wins, challenges, etc. I think we can also provide resources and uplift the people and projects who are doing this work well. With all the noise out there regarding the DEAI space, I think it will be rewarding and challenging to make progress happen.

Tell me a little bit about your current partnerships.

One of the things I am learning and really appreciating about the Center is the collaborative and multi-sector nature of the partners on the project. We are an experienced group of folks from a diverse set of organizations such as zoos, grassroots, and other non-profits. This is a unique approach for true co-development of a Center such as ours that is serving the NSF’s (National Science Foundation) AISL (Advancing Informal Science Learning) grant program Principal Investigator community. I am currently learning more about what makes this group of grant awardees a community. What do they have in common? How are they advancing equity in their projects? I am especially looking forward to learning and celebrating all the important work that the projects are accomplishing and sharing the resources developed. I think that it’s hard sometimes for project teams to even keep up with their own work and I think the Center will have a place in proactively seeking out and making these resources available.

How do you engage community members?

“I try to be genuine in my engagements with communities and relationships are incredibly important to me. I also want to be mindful that relationships take time to develop. I try to emphasize getting to know each other personally as a way to strengthen our connection points.”

 

It depends on the community we are talking about; I think community is a term that is used exhaustively and meant to represent many different audiences. I have also been a bit of a nomad, so I have had the opportunity to engage with many communities around the United States but not for an extended period of time. I try to be genuine in my engagements with communities and relationships are incredibly important to me. I also want to be mindful that relationships take time to develop. I try to emphasize getting to know each other personally as a way to strengthen our connection points. It’s been an interesting journey for me to learn what is appropriate or not to share and ask in what context as a “professional.” I am constantly testing the boundaries because I yearn to know and understand the context of where my communities are coming from. I feel lucky because I have had many mentors that have guided me along the way and encouraged me to push the envelope in expressing myself and being who I am in whatever context I am in. I have had mixed results! I am always learning and trying to do better.

Ivel photo

What would you consider the positionality of the REVISE center to be and the potential privileges that come with that?

That is a great question! I love that I am just starting this role so my answer can still be naïve and hopeful.

I think that the REVISE Center is in a cooperative agreement with the NSF, alongside that comes immense power and privilege, even though the people who conceived and run the Center may not themselves feel like they have it. The Center is designed to be an equity resource hub, and in some ways, we are guiding the conversation around how we embody and define equity. We are also working in close collaboration with a government agency, who in turn is bound by their own real and perceived positionality and bureaucracy. I believe that the REVISE Center was chosen by NSF for a reason, and that reason is to create change in the way that the informal science sphere does business. I feel like over the next four years one of the greatest privileges that we will have is attempting to make that change and learning more about the process and barriers that still exist in society.

Where have you seen movement/progress in equity in the informal science community? In what ways do you think the informal science community can do better?

“Despite the national reckoning with systemic racism, there is still a broad spectrum of where individuals and organizations are in terms of their understanding and buy-in to the work. This is due to the fear of the unknown, a lack of understanding around what it entails, resistance to change, and potentially feeling like your power will be usurped. These are all valid ways to feel.”

 

I have been in this field, particularly science museums/zoos, for about a decade. In my time I have seen topics around diversity, equity, access, and inclusion (DEAI) really go from periphery to more of a center stage. I also think that despite the national reckoning with systemic racism, there is still a broad spectrum of where individuals and organizations are in terms of their understanding and buy-in to the work. This is due to the fear of the unknown, a lack of understanding around what it entails, resistance to change, and potentially feeling like your power will be usurped. These are all valid ways to feel. It has been encouraging to see changes like in the new issue of the AISL solicitation where there is a specific and intentional focus on equity.

I believe the ISE community could do better in supporting their staff to navigate these changes. That was one of the more exciting and enticing aspects of REVISE Center’s work to me! I think staff of all walks of life and histories need more opportunities to build their understanding of DEAI and to see their role in it. I have been failed by many institutions and systems. I don’t think it was intentional most of the time. We are perpetuating the systems that we have had to learn how to navigate in order to be successful, so there is unlearning to do by those currently in positions of power. We need to listen to youth and be humble in our approaches to change.