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Spotlight on Krystal Villanosa, doctoral candidate in Learning Sciences and TGS Diversity & Inclusion Intern

Modified: February 7, 2017
Krystal Villanosa
Krystal Villanosa, a doctoral candidate in Learning Sciences, spent six years in the education department at the Field Museum before attending Northwestern for graduate school. While she initially came to Northwestern to study digital learning in museum settings, she realized she also needed to ask more fundamental questions about museum visitors.
“The disparity between the typical museum visitor and the diverse communities that museums want as visitors is significant,” Krystal explains. “Museums are experiencing a clear audience diversity crisis, as the typical museum-goer is white with a six-figure income. This trend, which is happening in museums across the country, is what led me to ask questions about why museums struggle so much to engage certain groups.”
In order to diversify their visitor base, museums are starting to think about what it means to broaden participation and increase access through meaningful partnerships with their target audiences. As part of her dissertation, Krystal is interviewing museum workers to better understand their beliefs about diversity, how they design for diverse publics, and their thoughts about what strong museum-community partnerships should look like.
“At the Field Museum, I worked on projects that were about using technology to engage youth in the science that the researchers were doing or to engage them in the content of an exhibition,” Krystal explains. “But these efforts were not necessarily viewed as diversity or inclusion work. Even though reaching out to people who don’t normally come to museums was part of the mission of my department, it was rarely explicitly discussed. In retrospect, it was not as intentional as it should have been, but more of an ‘if you build it they will come’ mentality.”
In addition to her research, Krystal is the intern for the Diversity & Inclusion team at The Graduate School. She will be benchmarking diversity recruitment initiatives at other universities, as well as leading the humanities cohort for the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP). This internship will allow Krystal to work specifically on diversity programming.
“To me, research and practice should be linked but it’s rare to be in an environment where both are equally privileged,” Krystal says. “I think that is a gap in my professional experience so it is critical for me to see diversity work take place on the ground. The Diversity & Inclusion internship is the perfect opportunity for this.”
During her time at Northwestern, Krystal has learned the importance of cross-departmental interaction and collaboration on projects. Not only has this helped her grow her professional network, but it has also allowed her to view her research from a different perspective.
“Academics can often be guilty of having tunnel vision around their work, “ says Krystal.  “It is important to be open-minded about how we look at our research and to surround ourselves with people who have different research interests or are from other disciplines altogether.  It lets us think about our work in different ways and brings up questions that we would not normally ask.”
Krystal is in her fifth year at Northwestern. In her spare time, she enjoys trying new restaurants and cooking. While she does not have set plans for her future, she is open to several different paths.
“I do not have a definitive answer for what happens after graduation,” she laughs. “I like the lifestyle that academia provides, but there is also something interesting to me about using my research skills as a practitioner. I’ll likely end up looking at both possibilities.”
One thing that is for sure is that Krystal hopes to stay close to Chicago, or at least the Midwest.
“I’m very place bound, my entire family is here!” she says. “I know that this will end up being a huge factor in my decision.”