College of Education and Human Development

Family Social Science

Sara Axtell

Pronouns: she, her, hers


PDF icon Curriculum Vitae

PDF icon Advising Statement


Ph.D., Psychology of Learning, University of Minnesota
B.S., Special Education, Illinois State University


Areas of Interest

Community Engagement
Interfacing of different cultural knowledge systems, particularly indigenous and traditional knowledge systems with modern Western knowledge
Community Health
Truth and reconciliation as a strategy for healing relationships between communities and institutions
European American cultural identity

I am not accepting new advisees for fall 2022.

Research & Discovery

How my work is related to social justice

Much of my work focuses on developing mutually beneficial, authentic collaborations between the university and communities. This work often brings up questions about how to share intellectual authority and how to best bring together academic knowledge (which in many ways is based in modern Western knowledge systems) and the knowledge systems that are held in cultural communities. For me as a European American, this has necessitated deep cultural self-study so that I have a better understanding of the damaging cultural patterns, as well as the cultural resources, that I have inherited. I am indebted to elders at the Cultural Wellness Center for guiding me in this study.

As a part of this work, I teach with Healing Roots, which is a community of people of European heritage who are studying our culture and history to become agents of change in creating a healthy society for people of all cultural heritages. We seek to develop a sense of collective responsibility, which can lead to productive action. For information on classes and events, go to .

For more in-depth discussion, please see my comments from the conference Overcoming Racism: Recognizing and challenging the legacies that oppress us.

What Students Can Expect from Me

In my teaching, I seek to create a space where we can bring our whole, authentic selves, and  the knowledge that has grown out of our experiences.  We work together to develop an understanding of families and communities that acknowledges and values community assets and knowledge.  We share the responsibility to pose critical questions.  In my classes, you can expect a lot of large and small group discussion and reflective writing.

Teaching & Learning

FSoS 2107:  Preparation for Family and Community Engagement

FSoS 3426:  Drugs and Alcohol: Family and Community

FSoS 4296:  Field Experience

PubH 6066: Building Communities, Increasing Health: Preparing for Community Health Work


Select Publications and Presentations

See CV for complete list


  1. Smalkoski, K., Axtell, S., Zimmer, J., & Noor, I. (August, 2016). One Size Does Not Fit All. Journal of Extension. v54 n4 Article 4COM1

  2. Axtell, S., Avery, M., &  Westra, B.  (2010).  Incorporating Cultural Competence Content Into Graduate Nursing Curricula Through Community—University Collaboration. J Transcult Nurs, April 2010; vol. 21, 2: pp. 183-191.

  3. Seanhk-Ka, S. & Axtell, S. (2007). Sharing Intellectual Authority. Partnership Perspectives, 4(1), 78-85.


  1. Barbee, J., Axtell, S., & Hassel, C.  “European American Culture and Identity.” Multiple locations.

  2. Barbee, J., Axtell, S., Hassel, C.,  Springer, M., Swartz, K., Vangsness, A. "Preparing European Americans for Deep Listening."  Multiple locations.

  3. Barbee, J., Axtell, S., & Hassel, C.  “Cultural Narratives:  The Hidden Stories that Support Whiteness,”  Multiple locations.

  4. Barbee, J., Axtell, S., & Hassel, C.   “Making the 'Norm' Visible: Characteristics of Majority American Culture,”  Multiple locations.