REVISE Team Reflections on the 2023 AISL Awardee Meeting

REVISE team group photo

January 24th, 2024

In December 2023, the REVISE Center hosted the biennial AISL Awardee Meeting in Arlington, Virginia. The 3-day event convened projects funded by the NSF AISL program to share goals, processes, progress, challenges, and opportunities of their work. The event marked a pivotal moment not only for our team but, we believe, for all in attendance, providing spaces and opportunities for active engagement in discussion that explored the realms of equity within informal STEM education (ISE).

Since the AISL Awardee Meeting, the REVISE team has collectively and individually reflected on our experiences. Through this blog post, we bring you a mosaic of our team’s musings, highlighting shared insights and common themes that emerged from our unique perspectives. Our hope is that, by sharing a glimpse into our reflections, we can inspire and contribute to the ongoing effort of REVISING the Conversation on Equity in ISE (the 2023 AISL Awardee Meeting theme).

Navigating Challenges: Committing to Accessibility in the Equity Journey

Leading up to and throughout the Awardee Meeting, a common theme emerged—equity is not a destination but a journey. Amid the event, our team encountered real-world challenges that underscored the journey toward equity, specifically in the realm of accessibility. There were service issues with the venue’s elevators throughout the time of our event, resulting in instances of limited or no elevator access. The elevator situation, though beyond our control, spotlighted the poignant reality that accessibility—in event planning and beyond—is not merely a checklist item, but a dynamic and shared commitment that demands constant vigilance.

“Access needs time, forethought, follow-through, and patience. Everyone has to be involved.” 

Lisette Torres-Gerald, CoPI | Director of Operations & Communication

There was also active construction throughout the venue during the event. This interference further heightened the complexities between venue limitations and the efforts towards inclusivity. While the construction noise and footprint brought unexpected challenges, they amplified our collective understanding that the pursuit of equity demands adaptability and a proactive mindset. 

“One thing I thought a lot about after our reflection on the meeting (especially with all of the building issues) was TRUE disability inclusion and how to support everyone attending a meeting both physically and otherwise.” 

Pati Ruiz, CoPI | Director of Virtual Infrastructure and Community

The lessons learned from these challenges show that the journey towards equity does not come without its obstacles. Despite these challenges, our team approached each situation with intention and diligence. We acknowledge that true accessibility requires ongoing investment of effort, consideration from all parties involved, and shared responsibility to adapt to unexpected challenges.

Defining the Journey: What Does it Mean to “Do Equity?”

Reflecting on shared thoughts and suggestions from other attendees, some REVISE team members noted a desire—and perhaps a need—to articulate a shared definition of what it truly means to “do equity.” Revisiting the common themes around equity as a journey, our team recognized the twists, turns, and continuous explorations that fill that journey. Some team members grappled with questions like, “What does ‘doing equity’ look like in practice?” and “How can equity be tangible and achievable?”

“I feel like something that the REVISE Center could support is to have articulated goalposts or milestones that can help practitioners feel like there is progress being made… We would love input on what resources would be most helpful in mapping the mileposts and [we] need community participation in creating the shared language around what it means to ‘do equity’.”

Ivel Gontan | Center Manager

“I appreciated hearing the needs of the AISL awardees during the town hall, such as when someone shared the profound phrase, ‘Equity is a verb not a noun.’” 

Selene Gonzalez-Carrillo | Communities of Practice Coordinator

These reflections underscored that equity is not a distant, unreachable destination; rather it is a series of milestones, each marking progress on the journey. And we consider how REVISE can help articulate those milestones to the ISE field.

Similarly, team members openly shared sentiments that underscored the continuous nature of the journey, acknowledging that uncertainties and unfamiliar territories may arise.

“I [still] have to do a lot of my own exploration and education in the area of equity. And I liked the reminder that we are all starting where we are, we are making mistakes and acknowledging them, and we are learning together.” 

Kelly Paulson | Project & Finance Coordinator

Shared sentiment around navigating the unknown reflects the spirit of ongoing exploration and learning within the REVISE team. We not only seek to define the journey with goalposts, but also to navigate the unknown with a spirit of continuous learning and willingness to evolve and adapt along the way.

Innovative Practices: Culturally Responsive Evaluation

Excitement unfolded around the innovative practices discussed and explored throughout the Awardee Meeting. In particular, culturally responsive evaluation emerged as a practice that captured the attention of Selene Gonzalez-Carrillo, our Communities of Practice coordinator, who offered reflections around rethinking program evaluation that prioritizes equity and challenges traditional practices that can sometimes be exclusive and disregarding: “Then one of the innovative practices that can help us be more critical and more equitable is what we’ve been seeing with culturally responsive evaluation. So, we want to evaluate and see if we are what we’re doing—if our programming—is working, but the traditional ways that we go about it might not be the ones that capture the best information for a particular group, especially if that group does not utilize, let’s say, written word as the main way to transmit information.”

Reflecting on the ways in which traditional practices might be exclusive and dismissive in nature, such as utilizing written surveys for evaluation when working with communities that prefer to transfer information verbally (e.g., spoken word, song, etc.), team members consider how culturally responsive evaluation not only prioritizes other ways of doing, but positions that diversity at the core of the evaluation process for a more inclusive and responsive analysis and more genuine understandings.

Envisioning the Future

Throughout our reflections, there is a shared sense of gratitude for the collaboration that transpired during the Awardee Meeting and a drive to keep the momentum.

“The most important part of the conference was the ability to hear from the audiences that I will be working with in developing Communities of Practice. It was a rare opportunity to hear their voice and start to understand their needs and wants.” 

Diane Miller, CoPI | Director of Affiliate Programs & Research to Practice 

“I left the meeting feeling invigorated, inspired, and excited to implement the conversations I had and listened to in practice… Moving forward, I want to look for ways for the young people who participate in AISL projects to use their own voices.” 

Sana Karim | Project Manager of Digital Infastructure

It is not merely about envisioning the future, but actively creating it through collaboration. By placing collaboration at the heart of our work, we navigate towards a future where the principles of equity are not just aspirations, but integral and tangible parts of our transformative journey.

“The AISL Awardee Meeting gave me hope that we can encourage the Informal Science Education field to be more equitable. It was wonderful to see so many happy faces and people enjoying themselves while still having deep conversations about equity in ISE. I could see people developing connections and collaborations as well as challenging themselves to do more. I hope that the REVISE Center can capitalize on that momentum and enthusiasm to continue to push the field.”

Lisette Torres-Gerald, CoPI | Director of Operations & Communication

Our team’s reflections offer a glimpse into the diverse perspectives that contribute to a richer understanding of equity in ISE. We are energized by the insights gained from the 2023 AISL Awardee Meeting and hopeful about the potential impact our reflections may have in the ongoing conversations around equity in the field.

This blog post—although it captures individual reflections—is a collective reflection of the REVISE Center team who hosted and attended the 2023 AISL Awardee Meeting. Through a collaborative process, the REVISE team worked to bring you this meaningful account. Thank you to all of our team members.