I feel like the work I am doing right now is leading me down the right path. I am enjoying it and learning so much.
A few weeks into her new job training teen volunteers at Pacific Science Center how to take up issues of equity and social justice in their work, Pilar Letrondo noticed something concerning mid-way through a session she was leading on identity.
"All the white kids sat on one side of the table and all of the non-white kids sat on the other," she said. "[I] realized that I needed to address the seating situation.”
It was a striking example of how physical spaces can impact teaching and learning, and even more so, the challenge of overcoming bias in educational spaces.
For Letrondo, it's been a valuable learning experience made possible through her senior capstone internship in the University of Washington's Education, Communities and Organizations major.
As part of Letrondo’s ECO major requirements, she’s required to complete an internship with an organization of her choice—and got matched with Pacific Science Center, a place she enjoyed visiting as a child.
Now an intern with the center’s Discovery Corps team, Letrondo supports staff members who work with teen volunteers.
“I help with trainings and check-outs. Those happen when one of our youth has finished shadowing a certain position on the floor in the science center. They come in and we evaluate them to make sure that they are ready to staff it by themselves.”
In addition to supporting staff, Letrondo leads monthly “rap sessions” with teen volunteers. By discussing issues of social justice and equity, the goal is to help students develop team bonds and experience new perspectives.
Currently, Letrondo is helping two teen volunteers prepare to facilitate a rap session on privilege. After one of the students suggested that they conduct a privilege walk, Letrondo remembered the first time she did the exercise as part of a course on educational equity and diversity with UW research associate Jondou Chen.
In the course, students fill out a list of questions that weigh individual privilege. Then the papers are collected, shuffled and handed out randomly. Each student takes a paper, stands on a line and steps forward or backward depending on what is written on their paper. In the end, the farther a person has moved from the line indicates how much privilege that person has.
“When I did it here at UW,” Letrondo said, “the exercise was powerful because it let me see other experiences and made me reflect on my own. It will be an awesome collaborative effort between myself and the students.”
Through an emphasis on social justice, the Discovery Corps works to increase equity for historically excluded populations. Students from all high schools in Washington are eligible to apply and have opportunities to become paid employees upon completion of their volunteer positions. By accepting students from a wide variety of backgrounds, the program makes careers in STEM fields more accessible to all members of the community.
In the future, Letrondo hopes to travel to London and continue working in a museum or non-profit education setting. Eventually, she would like to advance her skills by earning a graduate degree in non-profit education.
“I feel like the work I am doing right now is leading me down the right path. I am enjoying it and learning so much.”
Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications