UW-River Falls physics professor reaches students
February 11, 2015
UW-River Falls professor of physics Rellen Hardtke could be considered a role model for women in science, a social activist, and now she is now running for a seat in the River Falls City Council.
If you were to walk into Hardtke’s office without an appointment, you may find Hardtke dressed unassumingly, and possibly welcoming students with a smile. Despite Hardtke’s credentials, her office is quite humble.
Hardtke holds a doctorate in particle astrophysics from UW-Madison and a bachelor’s in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is also involved in the Women’s and Gender Studies program and is coordinator for dual degree/pre-engineering programs here at UWRF.
“I always like to do the hardest thing and see if I could be successful at it,” said Hardtke of her achievements.
The list of accomplishments and her organizations she has been involved with are quite extensive on her Facebook election page. From school board to academic boards, as chairperson and committee member, Hardtke has been active in her community as well as her position as an academic. Love of community involvement and social activism has been an important component of her academic life.
“I love being at UWRF because it lets you be a well-rounded faculty person,” Hardtke said. “I can advise student organizations and that’s part of my service requirement. I do it because I like it. But here that’s counted as part of our service, as is Faculty Senate, the diversity and inclusivity committee, the gender studies program. These are things that I am allowed to do because, just like we want our students to be well-rounded, UWRF supports faculty that are well-rounded.”
Women’s and Gender Studies have always been part of her educational background and academic career. Hardtke said it is hard to find a position in Women’s and Gender Studies.
“Physics pays the bills while I get to do my other passion,” Hardtke said.
A big part of that passion translates into being an advocate for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Hardtke has had to go against the grain often as a woman in a male-dominated world of science and mathematics.
“Her teaching style is exceedingly constructive to fostering a positive learning environment,” said former student Katrina Hanson, who know works at 3M. “Additionally, her outspoken support of diversity and equality, both in STEM fields and universally, are strong indicators of her commitment to ensuring that every student is accepted unconditionally.”
She has a 5 rating on ratemyprofessors.com, and is popular with students, past and present. In 2012, Hardtke was the recipient of the UWRF Excellence in Teaching Award. The comments from students sound more like a fan club.
“Not only is she a great professor, but her willingness to help us outside of class is astounding,” said Raven Hernandez, a sophomore broad field science and physics student. “I would, without a doubt, say Dr. Hardtke is a role model, specifically to women in the STEM field. She’s a great example of what women are capable in our field, and to witness her passion and skill is inspiring.”
Hardtke said she is proud of UWRF because even though the physics department is small, there are two women professors. She said it gives UWRF a higher percentage of women professors in physics than most schools in the U.S. Hardtke said she feels like she has to get involved because things do not get better without action.
“I am proud that I will go to bat for others who are being treated unfairly,” Hardtke said. “I will do that even if it involves some personal risk. In academia, you’re often advised to not rock the boat until you have tenure, but I never let that stop me from standing up for justice. Advice? Do what you love. It’s OK to keep looking for what you love to do until you find it.”