Zahra Hazari doesn’t want women and people from diverse backgrounds to face the same obstacles that plagued her path.
A professor of science education in the Department of Teaching and Learning and the STEM Transformation Institute, Hazari has dedicated her career to identifying and dismantling these barriers. Among her most ambitious efforts is leading STEP UP, a national initiative to change the culture of physics in the United States by mobilizing physics teachers to support young women while they are still in high school.
For her efforts, Hazari was recently elected as a fellow of the American Physical Society, a nonprofit organization with more than 55,000 members that advances physics in the United States. Only a small fraction of the society’s members are recognized as fellows each year.
Despite earning the highest grades in all her classes, Hazari long felt she wasn’t good enough to be a physicist. Motivated by her own experiences, she first sought to understand why so few people were able to explain why women and people from under-represented groups often chose to leave physics altogether.
Her research identified recognition by others as one of the most significant factors that could determine whether a student ultimately persists in a science program. More of her research yielded clues about how even the subtlest forms of harassment make a big impact on persistence.
STEP UP, the national initiative run in partnership with the American Physical Society and others, leverages Hazari’s research to create a network that could ultimately make the culture of physics more open and inclusive.
“In the classroom, it’s about collective and supportive learning,” Hazari said. “We’re in this together. We need more of the ‘we’ in physics. This is why the STEP UP mantra is Physics Together. That’s also how physics happens with people working across the globe to further the understanding of science. It doesn’t happen with lone people working by themselves.”