Vashti Sawtelle


Vashti Sawtelle is physics education researcher who studies how learning environments support (or inhibit) students from diverse backgrounds in their learning physics. She focuses her work on understanding the role active learning, modeling, and interdisciplinary classrooms (i.e. physics for biologists) have to play in creating supportive learning environments for all students.

Vashti received her PhD in Physics Education from Florida International University in 2011 where she worked with Eric Brewe in the Physics Education Research Group. There she focused on the development of physics self-efficacy for students, particularly women, in a Modeling Instruction environment. She moved to the University of Maryland Physics Education Research Group as a postdoctoral researcher where she helped to design an introductory physics course for life science majors, explored the relationship between affect (emotions) and science thinking, and deepened her knowledge of qualitative research methodologies.

Vashti’s work focuses on understanding equitable learning environments at the undergraduate level. Originally, her work centered on the experiences of women in physics and bringing modern theories such as social-cognitive theory to understanding dynamics of gender and science. Currently, she has broadened this perspective to include understanding how students from diverse backgrounds (e.g. science, family, and school) experience physics and science and how these students come to identify as scientists. From the social context, her interests include understanding how students develop self-efficacy to do science, how that contributes to the development of science identities, and how those identities are related to issues of equity in the science community. She is particularly interested in understanding the interaction between individual students and the learning environment and draws heavily from ethnographic methodologies to support her work. While co-directing the Physics Education Research Lab ¬†at MSU she continues to collaborate with and build from her background in Modeling Instruction at FIU and NEXUS/Physics from UMD.