Normalizing struggle: Supporting Students through Academic Challenges In and Out of the Classroom

Vashti Sawtelle, College of Natural Science & Lyman Briggs College
Ariel Robins, College of Natural Science
Angela Little, College of Natural Science
Wednesday, October 9, 2019
11:15-1:00 (lunch available at 11:15, program begins at 11:30)
1425 Biomedical and Physical
Sciences (BPS) Building


Students often associate their grades with their sense of self, and as a result experiencing a set-back in a course can cause a crisis of identity. In this workshop we will discuss how to support students through academic challenges both in and out of the classroom. We will engage faculty in thinking about how they can structurally design their classes to give students opportunities to try and try again. We will also explore what kinds of messages faculty and instructors can send in their class that make it clear that struggle is an essential part of the learning process.


Vashti Sawtelle is an assistant professor of physics in the Lyman Briggs College and the Department of Physics and Astronomy. She is a physics education researcher who studies how learning environments support (or inhibit) students from diverse background in their learning. She co-directs the Physics Education Reserch Lab at Michigan State ( here her work focsuses on understanding the role that active learning, modeling, and interdisciplinary classrooms (i.e. physics for biologists) have to play in creating supportive learning environments for all students.

Ariel Robbins is the assistant director and academic advisor of the Charles Drew Science Scholars program in the College of Natural Science. Drew Scholars is a comprehensive and inclusive academic support program for students pursuing NatSci disciplines. She has been working with Drew Scholars since 2008 and is one of the primary support sources for its students. Ariel is also a member of both NatSci’s Council on Diversity & Community and NatSci’s Taskforce on Inclusive Initiatives. She has a committed interest in supporting students and their all-around success at MSU.

Angela Little is a physics education researcher, multimedia producer, and national leader in STEM education equity initiatives. Her research focuses on how people come to develop a sense of feeling capable in STEM. Little is a co-founder of The Compass Project, winner of the 2012 American Physical Society (APS) Award for Improving Undergraduate Physics Education. Compass inspired the creation of a number of other programs across the country. In 2015, Little co-founded The Access Network, an NSF-funded national network to support these programs to network with one another. Little is a former member of both the APS Forum on Education Executive Committee and the APS Committee on Minorities. She serves on her tribe’s (Chinook Nation) Education & Scholarship Committee.

Video of Session