Hazlett receives faculty Social Justice Award
The St. Olaf College Faculty Life Committee presented the 2023 Social Justice Award to Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics Eric Hazlett at an April 18 ceremony on campus. In accepting his award, Hazlett delivered a public lecture titled Social Scientific Justice or is it Scientific Social Justice? How about Science and Justice for All?
The annual Social Justice Award recognizes the hard work of faculty members in bringing needed change to the college and demonstrates St. Olaf’s commitment to developing a more inclusive environment that will better foster a sense of belonging in the campus community.
Associate Professor of Psychology Carlo Veltri chaired the nomination committee overseeing the award. He says Hazlett’s nominators highlighted his ability to translate his personal experiences, passion for science, commitment to inclusion and belonging, and dedication to inspiring and guiding others into exceptional mentoring of physics students as well as students enrolled in the Posse Program. Hazlett is also involved in the Physics Department’s Team-Up Initiative, and has gathered and shared data about imposter syndrome among physics students.
Hazlett was the first St. Olaf physics professor to incorporate Academic Civic Engagement (ACE) components into the core physics curriculum. He has worked to engage the broader Northfield community in physics and science education by bringing physics demonstrations to places like Greenvale Park Elementary School and events like Northfield’s Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration.
Born in Costa Rica with an American father from southeastern Colorado who is a botanist and a mother from Honduras who is a teacher, Hazlett always enjoyed exploring and building things as a child. He attended Colorado State University, where he intended to major in engineering. He quickly found that he had too many “Why?” questions for the department, so he transferred to physics. Along with doing research as a TRIO McNair Scholar, he also participated in the “Little Shop of Physics” outreach program that enabled him to share science with students across Colorado and to primarily Native American–serving schools in New Mexico and Wyoming.
“I have always been interested in helping people explore science. These feelings were really galvanized during my work in science outreach at Colorado State with the Little Shop of Physics,” Hazlett says, noting that as a McNair Scholar he made a commitment to use his degree to help increase diversity in science.
After graduating from CSU, Hazlett moved east to Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, where he earned his Ph.D. in physics from The Pennsylvania State University. His research interest focused on atomic physics, specifically laser cooling and trapping of fermionic atoms and atomic clock shifts, and he was a Sloan Scholar. After earning his Ph.D., Hazlett held a post-doc at the University of Chicago before coming to Northfield in 2014, where he worked at Carleton College for four years and held an industry position in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, before joining the St. Olaf faculty in the fall of 2019.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Hazlett started a science outreach program with his St. Olaf students that is modeled after the Little Shop of Physics. The program has grown into a significant way that St. Olaf connects with the local community. “Being part of this has always been a career goal of mine, and it turned out that I needed to be in a community that supports and shares this priority,” Hazlett says. “St. Olaf has been supportive of all of these efforts to engage and empower the community through sharing of our passion. This not only helps us connect with the broader community, but give our students a chance to give back.”
I see this award jumpstarting the efforts to create a bigger, more sustainable and inclusive science outreach program to reach more students.Eric Hazlett
“Getting the students out in the community, as the role models they are, will help combat issues of imposter syndrome and stereotype threat that can be barriers to success,” Hazlett says. “Hopefully this will create a more welcoming environment and supplant the ‘I can’t and I’m not welcome’ mentality with the attitude of ‘I can and I am welcomed and I belong!'”
In his public address during the Social Justice Award ceremony, Hazlett talked about some of the obstacles that he faced during his time at graduate school, such as being referred to as a “diversity hire” or feelings of imposter syndrome. He noted that it’s important for individuals to be intentionally anti-racist, rather than simply not racist.
“I see this award jumpstarting the efforts to create a bigger, more sustainable and inclusive science outreach program to reach more students. Not only will the funds help the logistics of creating more experiments, but also this award shows that the college values this work,” Hazlett says. “As we get more students out in the community, as the role models they are, this will reflect that we as an institution are not only supportive of the current generation, but future generations of students. The colleagues I talk with are excited to bring their perspectives and ideas in, and it would be great if this award can help remove some of the barriers to this work and connect us in engagement.”
The Social Justice Award was developed by the Faculty Life Committee and funded by St. Olaf President David R. Anderson ’74 in alignment with the college’s efforts toward equity, inclusion, and anti-racism. It recognizes and uplifts faculty members who are engaged in the hard work of making the St. Olaf community a place of inclusivity and true belonging.