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History of SARSEF

SARSEF Foundation Beginnings

Our Beginning – History of SARSEF (the foundation also known as SciEnTeK-12 from 1999-2014)
Read on to see how we have grown, expanding our mission so our name now stands for so much more — while still maintaining valuable ties to our past.
SARSEF began in 1955 as a Tucson Unified School District program. The school where it was first held is uncertain, but it was held in a variety of school locations, until it outgrew the school format.
Marvin D. “Swede’ Johnson, who would eventually rise to a vice presidency at the University of Arizona, took responsibility for the program, and began hosting it at Bear Down Gym. The fair stayed at the gym until the late 1950s

Swede Johnson was official director of SARSEF and the science fair until 1965. Subsequent directors were: Dr. Ed McCullough (1965-1973), Dr. David Smith (1974-1993), Gil McLaughlin (1994-1995), Dr. Jack Johnson (1996-2004), Shirley Briggs (2005-2006) and Dr. Kathleen Bethel (2007 to 2014) and now Liz Baker (2014 to date).
Initially the fair was only for high school students, and had no funding or awards (beyond ribbons.) Dr. McCullough instituted a paid directorship, and sought outside sources for some event costs and awards.
The earliest sponsors were three: Southwest Gas, The Arizona Daily Star, and Tucson Electric Power. Costs were low, space and parking were donated, and the event became known as the University of Arizona SARSEF. Dr. Smith was named director, and paid by the university to manage the growing fair – which accounted for only a few hundred projects back then.

As SARSEF grew, so did the costs, and the University of Arizona. Organizations at the UA became nearly independent entrepreneurs, and SARSEF suddenly had to pay for parking, room rentals, tables for projects, and other equipment. In 1995, costs were about $75,000, and covered by the office of the vice president for research, and the Colleges of Agriculture, Engineering, Science and Medicine and the College of Pharmacy.
In 1996, Tucson and the UA hosted the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Tucson was the epicenter, with thousands of students and parents — from more than 50 nations — attending. The fair eventually outgrew Bear Down. facility, and expanded to include the campus Student Union ballroom
In 2000, the science fair was held for the first time at the Tucson Convention Center. An additional surge in growth and interest has taken place since the Math Science and Technology Funfest (MSTFF) began holding its hands-on science exploration event during the visiting hours for SARSEF in 2003. This free “Funfest” brought students to the TCC to experience a wide variety of science topics and to see all the projects participating in SARSEF.
The MSTFF took place in Exhibition Hall A and the TCC ballrooms. SARSEF then grew to use Exhibition Halls A, B and C to accommodate all the booths.
In 2005, SARSEF celebrated its 50th anniversary — and hosted 1,330 projects, with over 4,100 students participating in Grades K-12. That year, more than 7,200 students visited the combined SARSEF-MSTFF event.
By 2013, over 75,000 students conducted research and participated in their school fairs in the hopes of being selected for SARSEF. Ultimately, 1,800 projects were chosen to go on to compete. Over 6,000 visitors came to the event to see the projects and celebrate their success. The MSTFF now was a two-day event that attracted more than 6,000 additional students and 800 educators and volunteers.
Students bringing their scientific research to the fair were awarded prizes of three types: sponsored awards donated and judged by both local and national organizations; Grand Awards for the first, second and third place projects in all grades, categories and types in the event; top awards offering further opportunities and recognition for middle- and high-school students; as well as naming the top schools and teachers in the region.

Top awards include participation in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) for high school students, and a select few eighth graders (who serve as observers). The Broadcom MASTERS nominations are the top awards for middle school students at SARSEF. SARSEF is proud to note that its students have won numerous prizes at both the ISEF, I-SWEEEP, Broadcom MASTERS, Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge (DCYSC), American Museum of Natural History “Young Naturalists Awards”, GENIUS Olympiad and many other competitions.

SARSEF continues to be completely run by volunteers under the guidance of the SARSEF Foundation. All board members, committee members, and more than 400 event assistants and judges donate their time and experience for the benefit of the 75,000 students who vie for a spot at SARSEF each year. SARSEF students travel the world, making changes, meeting future innovators just like them!



About SARSEF, the Fair:

Created in 1955, SARSEF began as a modest event involving 100 science projects, and grew into a competition for the southern half of Arizona that attracts members of the public, talented engineers and scientists, and members of the news media. Each year, it brings together educators, academic researchers, technology companies, parents and student scientists for a five-day celebration of science and scientific discovery.

Last year, some 75,000 students in Southern Arizona — from kindergarten to high school — designed projects for their local science fairs. Only the best of those projects were selected to advance to regional competition at the Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Fair.

SARSEF 2014 showcased 1,700 of those top-level research projects, and awarded more than 700 prizes to winners — including cash, science equipment, college scholarships or all-expense-paid trips to international student science fairs.

Over the years, science fair winners have gone on to compete at national and international science-and-engineering events, and have become expert critical thinkers, talented scholars and world-class scientists themselves. Be a part of the next generation of problems solvers in our community by joining us today!

Students: You will find information about conducting innovative research, competition guidelines that will get your hard work recognized, and ideas to help you get started.

Teachers and Fair Directors: You are a crucial part of the process of research. You will find out how you can help students design effective protocols to test their scientific theories. You can help them create fun displays and presentations to share their findings with the world. And you can find out how to prepare for and enter the upcoming competition by requesting our free educational outreach!

Science supporters: You are the donors, volunteers and judges who are a critical part of creating our future by encouraging our students. Enter here to become one of the over 400 award-winning scientists and engineers that take time out of their busy lives to become judges and volunteer at SARSEF each year. You can be one of the ones who help thousands of budding SciEnce, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) students reach their dreams and improve all of our lives. Enter this site to continue your support, or to make a new contribution to our future!

Empowering Southern Arizona's K-12 students to participate in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math