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Vashti Sawtelle, Ph.D.

Vashti  Sawtelle
  • Associate Professor
  • Physics
  • Department of Physics & Astronomy
  • Pronouns: she/her
  • Holmes Hall, E-187
  • 919 E. Shaw Lane
  • East Lansing, MI 48825
  • (517) 353-4861


  • LB 273: Physics I
  • LB 274: Physics II
  • LB 492: Being Feminist and Anti-Racist Scientists


Vashti Sawtelle is a physics education researcher who studies how learning environments support (or inhibit) students from diverse backgrounds in their learning physics. Co-director of the Physics Education Research Lab at MSU, she focuses her work on supporting community college transfer students to transition to the university, and understanding the role classroom environments have to play in creating supportive learning environments for all students. 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 supporting students who transition from two-year colleges to four-year universities to complete a bachelor's degree. In Lyman Briggs she teaches the introductory physics course which builds on her research in creating inclusive learning communities for students who are not necessarily physics majors.


  • 2011: Ph.D., Physics Education, Florida International University
  • 2006: B.A., Physics, Grinnell College


  • Henderson, R., Sawtelle, V., & Nissen, J. M. “Gender & Self-Efficacy: A Call to Physics Educators.” Phys. Teach., 58(5), 345–348, (2020). https://doi.org/10.1119/1.5145533
  • Nair, A., Sawtelle, V., “Operationalizing relevance in physics education: using a systems view to expand our conception of making physics relevant,” Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res. 15, 020121 (2019), https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevPhysEducRes.15.020121 (open access)
  • Gouvea, J., Sawtelle, V., Nair, A. “Epistemological progress in physics and its impact on biology,” Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res., 15, 010107 (2019). (open access)
  • Daane, A.R., Decker, S.R., Sawtelle, V., “Teaching About Racial Equity in Introductory Physics Courses,” Phys. Teach., 55(6), 328–333 (2017), http://doi.org/10.1119/1.4999724
  • Sawtelle, V., Turpen, C., “Leveraging a relationship with biology to expand a relationship with physics,” Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res., 12, 010136 (2016). (open access)


Vashti Sawtelle's current research projects largely center on supporting the self-efficacy and identity development of community college students as they transition to the university to pursue a bachelor's degree. This work centers a mixed methods approach and uses tools from educational psychology. In her work Sawtelle partners with Lansing Community College, Washtenaw Community College, Mott Community College, and MSU's Charles Drew Science Scholars. One of her goals is to explore how Lyman Briggs could become a home for recently transferred community college students. In the other parts of her work Sawtelle continues to build a more inclusive environment for students to learn physics. Current research efforts emphasize building curricular materials and research methods that are more accessible for students with disabilities.


  • 2022 Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year
  • 2019 Michigan State University Spirit of Ability Award
  • 2018 Michigan State University Teacher-Scholar Award


Curriculum Vitae