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Arizona students attend the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in Virginia Beach, Virginia!

Monday April 24, 2023

The Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) program is one of the nation’s longest-running STEM competitions. It is a collaborative effort between the research arm of the Department of Defense (DoD) and nationwide academic research institutions and is administered by the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA).

Five students from Arizona attended the National JSHS Competition and we are proud to share that two of them achieved recognition! Maritza Roberts-Padilla from BASIS Tucson North won First Place for her poster presentation in Chemistry and Chloe Zhan from Hamilton High School received an honorable mention in Math and Computer Science.

The students also had the opportunity to meet Dr. Jayde King, Research Psychologist at the Air Force Research Laboratory, presenting “Human Autonomy Teaming: Sci-Gi Dreams Made Reality” and Ms. Charneta Samms, Chief Technology Officer at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, presenting “Being an Engineer with the Army: The Limit Does Not Exist”.

Our very own Dani Wright, Director of Events and Volunteers, emceed all general sessions alongside John Andrews from Oklahoma State University Honors College. “Traveling to the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in Virginia Beach was such a wonderful opportunity for our Arizona delegation to convene with some of the brightest young minds from all corners in the United States”, shared Dani, “Students learned from one another as well as getting a peek into cutting edge technology from leading scientists and engineers in our country.”

Maritza’s project titled, Batch Adsorption Study of Methylene Blue using Fresh Prickly Pear Cactus Cladodes as a Model Material for Textile Wastewater Remediation, aimed to understand the effectiveness of Opuntia ficus-indica as a potential adsorbent for MB by understanding how the parameters, such as contact time, adsorbate dosage and temperature may affect adsorption.

The awards Maritza and the other students received are a testament to their hard work and dedication to STEM fields! Participating in events like JSHS not only gives students the opportunity to showcase their work, but also helps to encourage and motivate them to pursue their interests further. Congratulations to SARSEF students Baochan Fan, Chloe Zhan, Maritza Roberts-Padilla, Prisha Shroff, Valeria Tocanos-Pasos, and all students who participated in JSHS!

Check out our interview with Maritza Roberts-Padilla:

Can you describe your experience at JSHS (both locally and internationally), including any challenges you faced and what you learned from the experience?

JSHS has been one of the most interesting experiences of my high school career. At both the state and national level, I was able to meet so many driven and unique students! Every single person I had a conversation with had a unique view on the field they were studying, and the research was truly impressive; students conducted PhD level research at the age of 16 on everything from AI to ecological conservation. Additionally, it was very exciting to be able to combine my public speaking skills with my science research project as well. JSHS has taught me the importance of science communication, and how the true value in science is derived (largely in part) from allowing others to be able to understand what we research. This way research becomes inviting to everyone and we reduce the factor of intimidation that STEM currently has.

What advice would you give to other students who are interested in pursuing research in STEM fields?

One piece of advice I would give to any student who wants to pursue research within the STEM field is to just give it a chance and believe in yourself! There is legitimately nothing to lose by trying something new out (this goes for anything). Apply to a STEM program or reach out to a professor at the University of Arizona. Most people are excited to help a curious teen out! After you start reading some literature or talking to a mentor, give yourself a month or two to acclimate to the research setting (it’s overwhelming at times), but if you have enough initiative, follow your project through! Don’t expect the research experience to be easy though, you will learn so much every step of the way but also be challenged several times throughout the experience. I can’t emphasize how important it is for a student to go out of their comfort zone, and you never know but you may end up discovering something groundbreaking in your field! Don’t underestimate yourself, if I could do science research, anyone can!

How does it feel to have received recognition at the national level for your research, and what does this achievement mean to you personally?

Having recognition at the National level for my research is something that I haven’t completely processed yet. I was completely new to independent research this year and I oftentimes felt like a fish out of water. Especially as a Latina in STEM, the research experience can feel very isolating at times. Nonetheless, I feel so privileged that the Arizona JSHS judges believed in me enough to have sent my project to Nationals! Most importantly, I’m happy to know that my project was able to, nationally, communicate the importance of environmental chemistry solutions and provide a deeper look at the significance of chemo-adsorption using accessible materials to clean polluted water. The First Place National Chemistry Poster Award is truly an achievement that I never thought achievable, but now I have been encouraged to continue contributing to the adsorption field, and my intellectual curiosity will continue to expand from here! I will bring my knowledge that I have acquired from this project to the International Science and Engineering Fair this May in Dallas, Texas!

If you would like to know more about SARSEF and how you can become engaged in STEM, volunteer for our organization, or donate, visit us at (