Every child. Thinking critically. Solving problems.


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2022 Racing the Sun Winners

Congratulations to all the teams who participated in this year’s Racing the Sun (RTS), an engineering program that challenges high school students to design, build, and race solar-powered go-karts.

Working with teachers and mentors, students spent nine months preparing for Race Day. Along the way, they applied physics, engineering, and energy. They solved real-world problems, using mathematical, analytical, and critical thinking skills, and worked in teams to collaborate on ideas. They were all challenged to translate their ideas into a working prototype, and along the way, they built leadership skills!

Participating Schools: Blue Ridge High School, Center for Academic Success, Mica Mountain High School, Peoria High School, Salpointe Catholic High School, Shadow Ridge High School, Sonoran Science Academy, Tanque Verde High School, Tucson High Magnet High School, and Wilcox High School.

Racing the Sun Results

Grand Champion (Legacy)

Center for Academic Success: Apollo’s Chariot

Grand Champion (Maker)

Shadow Ridge High School: Solar Stallions

Innovation (Legacy)

Salpointe Catholic High School: Salpointe Legacy

Innovation (Maker)

First: Tucson High Magnet School: Mecha Badgers

Second: Blue Ridge High School: Blue Ridge

Engineering Tenacity Award

Mica Mountain High School: MMHS Racing the Sun

Oral Presentations

First: Shadow Ridge High School: Solar Stallions

First: Center for Academic Success: Bear Metal

Second: Salpointe Catholic High School: Salpointe Maker

Bending the Rules

Sonoran Science Academy- Davis Monthan: Chaos Cerberus

Spirit Award

Center for Academic Success: Bear Metal

Coach of the Year

Eric Bennett with Shadow Ridge High School

SARSEF Students Tour Sonora Quest Laboratories

SARSEF joined Sonora Quest Laboratories in celebrating National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week (April 24-30) to foster awareness and engagement in the laboratory and phlebotomy industries. Sonora Quest Laboratories is an incredible partner, supporting SARSEF’s next generation of critical thinkers through our programs and offering opportunities to countless Arizona students.

On April 26, 2022, a group of our SARSEF Fair participants and STAR Lab students toured our local Sonora Quest Laboratories in Tucson and learned more about career fields in health sciences.

Read the Arizona Daily Star Article about the tour

We had the opportunity to interview the group of students to learn more about their experience.

What was your favorite part of the tour?

Sophie Roth Gordon– “My favorite part of the tour was the chemistry labs.  I really didn’t think about what happened on the inside of the lab after I got my blood tests. There is so much interesting stuff that goes on to get my results! I really liked how hands-on it was and how you can involve yourself into knowing more about what’s going on.”

Jade Kuan- “My favorite part of the tour was learning about this whole field of health science I had never been exposed to. I’ve gotten my blood tested before, but never thought about what labs actually do with it so it was really exciting to see behind the scenes and learn more about the process!”

Juliet Ladevaia- “Seeing how much technology is used in the lab and how far the healthcare industry has come.”

Ella Lu Thompson- “The Microbiology area was my favorite because I enjoyed seeing the bacteria samples and how they work with those materials.”

What’s something unexpected you learned during the tour?

Sophie Roth Gordon- “Histology was something I didn’t expect or even know about. I was really surprised that something that important and that cool wasn’t advertised as a job. I also was very interested in the part of histology where you slice the sample to put it on a slide. This interests me because I really liked how artistic it feels to watch it get sliced.”

Jade Kuan- “Something unexpected I learned is that to analyze tissue samples, they can be embedded in paraffin wax blocks to make it easier to cut slices so they can be placed on microscopic slides.”

Hassan Lopez- “How much technology is incorporated in the lab. It was really cool how automated it is!”

Ella Lu Thompson- “I learned about Histology! I had no idea about any of that – like how they prepped the slides for doctors.”

What has SARSEF meant for you?

Sophie Roth Gordon- “SARSEF has meant working on projects and being able to understand more about the science behind things. It has also allowed me to find subjects that I really am interested in and can learn a lot more about them with my experiments.”

Jade Kuan- “SARSEF has been a way for me to explore my curiosity for the world while also helping people. I’ve explored so many questions I’ve had and learned so many new skills through my research, such as technical lab skills, but also scientific communication skills though presenting my projects to judges.”

Hassan Lopez- “SARSEF is an opportunity to show a passion that I have for science.”

Juliet Ladevaia- “SARSEF has given me an opportunity to learn and grow by potential for science. It a really good opportunity that can help me with my future so I am really excited about that.”

Max Casler: “SARSEF has meant a lot to me because I have been recognized for something I worked hard to do.”

Learn more about the students who toured Sonora Quest Laboratories and their Science Projects:

Jade Kuan, Grade 12

University High School, Tucson, AZ

Investigation of Retinal Energetics with Novel OPLS Force Fields Applied to a Full-Retinylidene System

Liam Superville, Grade 12

Tucson High Magnet High School, Tucson, AZ

Cockroaches on Caffeine: Behavioral analysis of the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach(Gromphadorhina portentosa) after a long term Caffeine Supplemented Diet.

Daveena Biswas, Grade 11

BASIS Oro Valley, Oro Valley, AZ

Which treatments are most effective at improving cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients 50 years and older?

Sophie Roth Gordon, Grade 8

Orange Grove Middle School, Tucson, AZ

Investigating Biophilia: Do Plant or Water Images Reduce Stress?

Max Casler, Grade 7

L. W. Cross Middle School, Tucson, AZ

How Does Blood React to Different Temperatures of Water

Ella Lu Thompson, Grade 7

L. W. Cross Middle School, Tucson, AZ

Lysol Spray vs. Lysol Wipes Starring Money

Hassan Lopez, Grade 7

L. W. Cross Middle School, Tucson, AZ

MiscO3nceptions of Aqueous Ozone

Juliet Ladevaia, Grade 7

L. W. Cross Middle School, Tucson, AZ

Innovating Solar Panels to Remotely Send Solar Energy

Meet ISEF Finalists Selected at the SARSEF Fair

We were in awe of the incredible science and engineering projects that students from across Arizona completed this school year! If you haven’t had an opportunity to see them yet, be sure to visit

SARSEF is one of three affiliated fairs in Arizona that selects the top high school projects at their Science and Engineering Fair to represent Arizona at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (Regeneron ISEF). Projects from all over the world attend to compete at ISEF as the next generation of innovators!

At this year’s fair, eight high school students were selected to attend ISEF: Christopher Miranda (Harvest Preparatory Academy), Arjun Gupta (Quest for Education and Arts), Karah Mayer (Tanque Verde High School), Nathaniel van der Leeuw and Lily Wood (University High School), Alexander Nelson (Nelson Home School), Yaritza Durazo (Sunnyside High School), Ashley Valencia (Harvest Preparatory Academy), Julianna Serna-Ortiz (Harvest Preparatory Academy).

We had the opportunity to interview them recently to learn about their experiences in research and at the fair. Scroll to the bottom of this post to find the list of winners including links to their projects in our virtual exhibit hall!

What inspired you to do your research project?

Ashely Valencia: I have always felt drawn to the sciences and while in high school I found out about all the different science fairs. This year I wanted to do a project that not only could help my community, but the entire world. Furthermore, I hope to pursue a career in the field of medicine and I decided to look into world health problems. I found out that roughly 3.4 billion individuals worldwide, are affected by oral diseases, especially in third world countries. I wanted to research ways to prevent some of these diseases.

Alexander Nelson: I have studied plant sciences throughout my high school research, with a particular interest in how plants respond under unfavorable conditions.  After meeting my mentors Dr. Cedar Warman and Dr. Ravishankar Palanivelu through the STAR Lab, and learning about their research, I was fascinated and wanted to pursue research alongside their studies.

Lily Wood: I had the opportunity to learn MATLab last summer and I wanted a project that would allow me to use it. I was also interested in learning more about global warming, especially living here in Tucson where it is already hot.

Julianna Serna-Ortiz: The current solutions for plastic pollution, PLA and oxo-biodegradable plastics, are found to be inefficient since they require a special composting facility to biodegrade. In this project I am trying to create a new biodegradable plastic with anitmicrobial properties that can be greatly beneficial for the environment. 

What’s something unexpected you learned while doing your research?

Ashley Valencia: Oral diseases affect a despicable amount of people around the world. People should not be ashamed of their smile just because they lack the resources. That is why I decided to focus on this topic.

Alexander Nelson: This year, I studied in vitro pollen growth and in vivo flower measurements. Through the guidance of my mentors, I learned how to integrate my subsequent findings into meaningful analyses using coding languages. This was a new experience and I learned many valuable skills in the process.

Julianna Serna-Ortiz: Out of all the different things I learned through the process of my research, what surprised me the most was that I can make a plastic out of algae and corn! When I heard about this experiment, I really couldn’t believe it was possible to do such thing, and still, when people hear about my project they look at me confused which I think is so funny. 

What has ISEF meant for you?

Ashley Valencia: ISEF will be a wonderful opportunity and experience for me. ISEF opens up many opportunities that were not available to me without it. I am very excited to hear and see all of the amazing research projects everybody has done this year.

Alexander Nelson: Throughout my childhood, ISEF has been an icon of scientific excellence that I have strived to achieve.  In essence, ISEF was a microcosm of all my future goals all wrapped up in one week. My desire to attend ISEF spawned many of my projects, culminating in three finalist presentations throughout high school. I am immeasurably grateful to all those who have helped me make this dream a possibility.

Julianna Serna-Ortiz: Getting to attend ISEF is a massive privilege and honestly my biggest achievement in my life as of now. I couldn’t be more grateful to all the people who gave me the chance to participate in this magnificent event and let me represent the state of Arizona. All I can say is thank you to all the people of ISEF who work really hard to give us students this amazing privilege of getting to be there and participate! 

What words of advice or encouragement do you want to share with other student scientists?

Ashley Valencia: As a first-generation student I feel like I should do  something important with my life because my parents never had the opportunities and resources we have available to us now. I want my parents to feel proud of me. While doing this research project I have been given many fantastic opportunities, like scholarships, extracurriculars, experience, Traveling, etc. What I want to say is that you should do something you love doing and feel proud of. Dream Big. Anything is possible if you set your mind to it!

Alexander Nelson: Allow me to preface: doing ‘good science’ is difficult, requiring lots of critical thinking and hard work.  But, if you commit yourself to following the scientific process from start to finish, you are in for the ride of your life.  Nothing is as exhilarating as conducting your own scientific review, formulating hypotheses, and watching them come to life through your own research. It’s worth the commitment.

Julianna Serna-Ortiz: If you’re doing something that you truly passionately love and you really, but genuinely, think that you can change the world with your idea, I’d just say go for it an don’t be afraid of making mistakes because that is just a sign that you’re slowly getting there.  

ISEF Finalists Selected at the SARSEF Fair

Christopher Miranda, Grade 10

Harvest Preparatory Academy, Yuma, AZ

Exogeneous Niacin and Zeaxanthin Treatment to Increase the Stress Tolerance and Light Absorbance Capacity of Microalgae Chlorella Vulgaris Under an Engineered Martian Environment

Arjun Gupta, Grade 11

Quest for Education and Arts, Tucson, AZ

Nouveau-AI-Plastic-Degen: A novel approach using AI-based enzyme engineering to design New and Highly Efficient Marine Plastic Degrading Enzymes

Karah Mayer, Grade 12

Tanque Verde High School, Tucson, AZ

Rare Immune Cells Significantly Associated with Severe COVID-19 Cases

Nathaniel van der Leeuw and Lily Wood, Grade 11

University High School, Tucson, AZ

Contemporary and Projected Climate Changes across the Southwestern United States Relative to the Last 24,000 Years

Alexander Nelson, Grade 12

Nelson Home School, Tucson, AZ

Analysis of Pollen-pistil Interactions to Model Reproductive Thermotolerance in Tomato

Yaritza Durazo, Grade 12

Sunnyside High School, Tucson, AZ

Exploration of Chaotic Orbits Using the Lyapunov Exponent in the Restricted Three-Body Problem

Ashley Valencia, Grade 10

Harvest Preparatory Academy, Yuma, AZ

Improving the Dental Health in Developing Countries with a Toothpaste Infused with Psidium Guajava and Acmella Oleracea Extracts Against Tooth Decay Causing Bacteria Streptococcus Mutans

Julianna Serna-Ortiz, Grade 10

Harvest Preparatory Academy, Yuma, AZ

Engineering of Antimicrobial Bioplastics From Invasive Algae Caulerpa Prolifera, Undaria Pinnatifida, and Waste Corn Cobs

Interested in supporting SARSEF and our work creating Arizona’s future critical thinkers and problem solvers through science and engineering?

Click Here to Visit SARSEF’s Donation Page

Meet the 2022 Winners of the Arizona Regional JSHS

Congratulations to all students who participated in this year’s Arizona Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), a competition hosted by SARSEF promoting original research and experimentation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at the high school level.

The JSHS Program is a national competition promoting original research and experimentation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at the high school level and publicly recognizes students for outstanding achievement. 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 will continue on to compete at the National JSHS competition: Baochan Fan (Hamilton High School), Shreya Sreekantham (BASIS Chandler), Calista Wilk (BASIS Scottsdale), Prisha Shroff (Hamilton High School), Savannah Botello (Cibola High School), and Saptarshi Mallick (University High School) is this year’s alternate.

We recently interviewed our AZ JSHS winners to learn more about them and their work.

What words of advice or encouragement do you want to share with other Students?

Shreya Sreekantham: Try your best, and don’t worry about the results! It’s totally ok to make a mistake, or a hundred. The more challenges you overcome, the more you learn. And if you’re feeling stuck, don’t ever hesitate to reach out to other people! You gain so much from interacting with your peers, mentors, and other scientists. I know it’s intimidating when you feel new or inexperienced, but keep in mind that everyone once started the same way. People are more willing to help than you might think, and your next amazing mentor could just be an email away.

Savannah Botello: Even if you doubt yourself or the value of your research, you should always put yourself out there because you truly never know what could happen or the people you could meet.

Baochan Fan: My number one advice would be that if you have a passion for science and research, I would recommend finding research opportunities and joining science fairs/conferences to further expand that interest, regardless of whether it is writing computer codes or conducting hands-on research in labs. I always had a passion for biology, and one of the best decisions I made in high school was applying to laboratory internship opportunities. Through these opportunities, I have enjoyed applying my knowledge in biology to solving real-world issues through research. Immersing myself in research has further developed my interest in biology and has made me more determined to pursue a career in medicine, so I would definitely recommend finding internship/lab working opportunities based on your interests.

Prisha Shroff: Be curious, dream big and never give up! Don’t just hope it happens, you should strive to make it happen!

What has JSHS meant for you?

Calista Wilk: JSHS provided an opportunity for me to experience what a symposium is like and how it feels to participate as a scientific researcher. The breadth and depth of ideas and projects inspired me, and I especially enjoyed meeting and learning from peers who shared a similar passion for science. I think that having this experience and forming these relationships are key to introducing us to new ways of approaching a problem, to encouraging us to continue challenging our skill sets, and to expanding our development as individuals.

Prisha Shroff: JSHS has been an opportunity of a lifetime and a dream come true. Everything that I got to experience in JSHS has changed my perspective and opened my eyes to the science world. The first day, I was able to tour the science labs and meet with professors conducting research in biotechnology. This was the first time I had seen an actual lab and got to do a little bit of research with the professors. I was also given the opportunity to network with professors and I was exposed to the different careers and fields in STEM. Then, I was given the opportunity to present the research that I was working on and share it with others. This was a new experience for me and I was glad to hear the questions and comments about my research. But what I really loved was meeting other like-minded peers with a passion and drive for STEM. All of the research that they were doing was amazing, and I got to see applications of STEM in so many different fields.

Shreya Sreekantham: JSHS was an incredible experience! After two years of only seeing people online, I loved being able to connect with researchers, judges, and other students. This was actually my first time participating in a research symposium, and I wish I had done this sooner. I learned so much just from watching other presenters! If you’re interested in research, I would really recommend participating in or attending these kinds of events.

Is there anyone you want to thank who helped you get to JSHS?

Savannah Botello: I’d like to thank my AP Environmental teacher Ms. Garcia and my parents for supporting me throughout the year.

Baochan Fan: First, I would like to thank my research partner, Sanvi Lamba. Ever since Sanvi and I initiated and developed our research idea, we have spent countless hours working in the lab, searching literature, and meeting together to discuss how to improve our face mask design, from multiple days after school to long hours on the weekends. Furthermore, I am extremely grateful for all of the support and advice our mentors provided to us, as we joined the lab group with no previous experience on how to create nanoparticles, set up breathability tests, or to conduct antimicrobial assays. Our mentors took the time to teach us the methods and assays to test for the properties and functions of our mask design, shared their previous research experiences whenever we were stuck on how to approach refining our experimental groups when a null result appeared, and spent countless hours supervising us while we worked in the lab. Finally, I really appreciate my parents for supporting my passion to pursue an interest in biological research. My parents were and still are willing to constantly drive me to and from the lab so that I can conduct hands-on research.

Calista Wilk: I would like to thank my mentor Professor, Peide Ye, at Purdue University for his positive and enthusiastic support throughout my project. The time he spent listening to my ideas and answering my questions provided me with the confidence to conduct my own research and to present my findings. I would also like to thank Professor, Muhammad Alam, at Purdue University for meeting with me when I had questions about the theory and operation of solar cells. I am extremely grateful for Ms. Natasha Proctor at BASIS Scottsdale, who has been my physics teacher for two years and has always supported all my endeavors in physics, including reviewing my work for JSHS. Dr. Margaret Wilch at SARSEF answered any questions I had throughout the process, which I greatly appreciated. Lastly, I would like to thank my family for cheering me on and listening to my presentation over and over, again and again.

Interested in supporting SARSEF and our work creating Arizona’s future critical thinkers and problem solvers through science and engineering?

Click Here to Visit SARSEF’s Donation Page

2022 JSHS Winners

Congratulations to all students who participated in this year’s Arizona Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), a competition hosted by SARSEF promoting original research and experimentation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at the high school level.

The JSHS Program is a national competition promoting original research and experimentation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at the high school level and publicly recognizes students for outstanding achievement. 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).

The following students will be advancing to the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium:

1st Place: Baochan Fan

School: Hamilton High School

Mentor: Dr. Shu Wang

Self Disinfecting High Performance Face Mask Based on Biomaterial Coated Nanofibers

2nd Place: Shreya Skreekantham

School: BASIS Chandler

Mentor: Dr. Avani Wildani

Evaluation of Gender’s Effect in Predicting Parkinson’s Disease from Voice Recordings: A Random Forest Approach

3rd Place: Calista Wilk

BASIS Scottsdale

Mentor: Peide Ye

Replacing Gallinium Arsenide in Space Solar Cells with 2-D Materials in a Novel 7-Junction Configuration

4th Place: Prisha Shroff

Hamilton High School

Teacher: Debbie Nipar

Ai-Based Wildfire Prevention, Detection, and Suppression System

5th Place: Savannah Botello

Cibola High School

Teacher: Patricia Garcia

Comparison of Struvite and Chlorella Vulgaris Solution to Phosphorus Water Pollution

Alternate: Saptarshi Mallick

University High School

Mentor: Yana Zavros

Hedgehog Signaling Mediates the Dysregulation of Adrenocorticotropin Hormone Secretion and Somatostatin Receptor Expression in Cushing’s Disease

2022 Arizona JSHS Digital Abstract Booklet

Press Release: Arizona Students Awarded Over $100,000 in Scholarships, Prizes, and Awards at SARSEF Fair in March!

March 24, 2022


(Tucson, AZ) In March, SARSEF held their 67th Annual Regional Science and Engineering Fair in conjunction with hosting a Community STEM Expo. The fair provided students the opportunity to be recognized and rewarded for their work in science and engineering. Many received cash prizes for their achievements.

The SARSEF Fair showcased the work of 6,557 students and 1,535 projects from over 120 schools, pre-kindergarten through high school, from all over Arizona. Over $100,000 in awards and scholarships were given out to students as well as teachers who went above and beyond to support their students’ work.

“SARSEF taught me that your own hard work does indeed pay off. Even though you might doubt yourself or wish that you picked an easier project, you must remember that hard work is the basis of society. Without carefully analyzing your code or making faulty predictions, you run the risk of building an unstable foundation for humanity. By participating in the Science Fair you are not guaranteed to win but you are guaranteed an opportunity to compete on a fair plain with all of Southern Arizona,” shared SARSEF Winner Nathaniel van der Leeuw from University High School.”

261 volunteer judges determined the grand awards, volunteering over 3,300 hours of their time. Judges reviewed projects and interviewed students to determine who will win a prize.

Yaritza Durazo, who attends Sunnyside High School, identified ways to make space mission designs more effective. She was excited to have had the opportunity to present her research and is excited to continue and explore her scientific journey.

“My favorite part about SARSEF was learning something new in science and being able to present the outcome of my research. Before, I thought science was mostly about getting results and drawing conclusions from them, but I quickly learned that science communication is a huge part of the scientific process. I had fun learning how to code, reading scientific papers, and presenting my research. I am excited to continue my scientific journey, wherever it takes me.”

A total of 457 Sponsored Awards were given to students. These awards are contributed by individuals or organizations within the community and nationally, supporting and encouraging students to become future leaders and believe in themselves. For example, Finnegan McGill, who attends Emily Gray Junior High, won the Coding with Commitment Sponsored Award given by Broadcom Foundation. The award included public recognition by the foundation, a $250 gift certificate, and a Raspberry Pi Foundation Official RP 400 Personal Computer Kit.

Eight students will continue on to compete at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering fair (ISEF): Christopher Miranda (Harvest Preparatory Academy), Karah Mayer (Tanque Verde High School), Alexander Nelson (Nelson Home School), Yaritza Durazo (Sunnyside High School), Ashley Valencia (Harvest Preparatory Academy), Julianna Serna-Ortiz (Harvest Preparatory Academy), Nathaniel van der Leeuw and Lily Wood (University High School), and Arjun Gupta (Quest for Education and Arts).

Visit the Virtual Fair and review projects in the exhibit hall:

View the 2022 Awards List:


SARSEF was formed in 1955 in an effort to increase student interest in the field of science. The mission of SARSEF is to teach Arizona’s Pre-K-12 grade students critical thinking and problem-solving skills as they participate in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) through inquiry-based learning and research.

SARSEF accomplishes this mission through a variety of programming including SARSEF Fair Week, educational outreach programs with an emphasis on underrepresented populations in the sciences, teacher professional development, ACES Camp for Middle School girls, Racing the Sun, and Arizona STEM Adventure.

To learn more about SARSEF programs and how students, teachers, and families can get involved, visit

Media Contact:

Yvonne Pysher, Director of Marketing and Communications


Meet Past SARSEF Student and the Impact of her STEM Education Journey

Written by Lauren Conger


(Tucson, AZ) During my first year of college, I received advice from my physics instructors that changed the way I viewed my ability to learn. They impressed upon us the idea that your brain is like a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Applying this attitude in my college education made me realize that asking questions didn’t mean I was behind; it meant I was growing. Taking extra time to work though homework solutions didn’t mean I was not smart; it meant I was giving my brain a workout. Most importantly, as I saw my own ability in mathematics and physics becoming stronger, I realized it equalized the playing field for students with varying math and science backgrounds, since each student’s ability to improve their critical thinking relied primarily on their efforts to spend time practicing that critical thinking.

I recall participating in SARSEF as a 5th grader in 2008. After I designed and executed my experiment with my sister, writing the report and making a poster board presented a daunting task. What does it mean to write a summary of my question, experiment, and results in an abstract? What exactly is the difference between the results and conclusion section? This type of thinking was difficult and challenging. At the time I preferred activities that involved rote memorization, because I knew exactly how to proceed. This exercise differed from classwork in that it required more creativity and critical thinking skills; this challenged me to grow intellectually.

Fortunately, I participated in SARSEF again as an 8th grader as a part of a school requirement. As a high school senior, I worked on a math project for fun and later decided to submit my work to SARSEF. I felt much more comfortable and familiar with the process because of my experience in 5th and 8th grade. The awards from SARSEF and local organizations told me that my engagement in STEM is valued by the community, more than just being something that I enjoy.

This year I volunteered as a SARSEF judge for the first time. The students had outstanding projects and demonstrated such high levels of understanding and critical thinking. During the award deliberations, the other judges drew out and discussed the best qualities from each student’s project. Seeing these STEM professionals eagerly discussing various aspects of the projects was itself inspiring. 

As a grad student, I am currently working on my first first-author academic journal paper. As I decide what to write in each section, the challenge feels about the same as how I felt in 5th grade, deciding what goes in my results versus conclusion. However, my experience with these feelings of challenge and unfamiliarity indicates that if I work to improve my skills, incorporate feedback from experts in the field, and continue to practice scientific writing, I will improve to a level far beyond competency. Let the research continue!

Lauren Conger is a PhD student at the California Institute of Technology, studying control and dynamical systems in the computing and mathematical sciences department. She has a B.S. in electrical and computer engineering from Cornell University and graduated from Salpointe Catholic High School in 2015.

Do you have a child in your life who shares a deep curiosity in STEM? Be their champion! Would you consider giving your time and resources to help non-profit organizations like SARSEF ( Your engagement could profoundly impact someone’s life and help shape a great future for humanity.

Lauren Conger – PhD Student, California Institute of Technology

If you would like to know more about SARSEF and how you can get engaged in STEM or involved with our organization, visit us at (

Meet Sonora Quest Laboratories Woman in STEM and her journey!

Written by Jo-Ann Cabbell



March 9, 2022

Finding a connection between your unique self and what you can offer your community can lead to a rewarding career. I discovered I was driven to understand how things worked, which made me the curious student in class who was frequently asking questions.

Through Sonora Quest’s collaboration with SARSEF, I now know the importance of sharing my journey in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to encourage future students who share in my curiosity and want to join the STEM journey!

I am originally from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. We moved and I grew up in the Foothills of North Carolina (GO Tarheels!) in a single-parent home. My mom worked full-time as well as two other part-time jobs while providing for my younger brother and me.

In middle school, I remember being intrigued by the stepped approach to arriving at a scientific conclusion: observation, question, hypothesis, prediction, test, analysis, and iteration. Even though my mother’s background was not in STEM, she helped cultivate my enthusiasm for science. I remember she always took a genuine interest in my homework and experiments. If I failed, she encouraged me to try again. She believed in me and my ability to figure things out. My mother motivated me with her interests in my studies, which inspired me to explore more and focus on my future in STEM.

My freshman year I majored in Biology at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Along the way, I learned about a career path in Nuclear Medicine Technology, a science field that uses radiopharmaceuticals to evaluate organ function and structure. In 2009, I graduated from Manhattan College with a BS in Radiological and Health Sciences with a major in Nuclear Medicine Technology and Concentration in Health Administration. With my degree, I became a Nuclear Medicine PET/CT Technologist serving on the frontlines of healthcare in New York’s Upper East Side at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. There I experienced first-hand how delicate life is and learned the importance of providing exceptional patient care.

Over time I developed an interest in combining data with healthcare to contribute to improving quality care outcomes, which motivated me to obtain my MBA in Managerial Analytics from Mercy College. After graduation, my husband and I moved to Arizona, and I pursued a career at Sonora Quest Laboratories/Laboratory Sciences of Arizona (SQL/LSA)—one of the largest laboratory networks in the nation—as a Clinical Informatics Specialist.

I am proud to be a part of a company that brings such valuable and critical services to the community and humbled by the diligence and hard work the team demonstrates every day. Our President & CEO Dave Dexter says that the lab is at the epicenter of healthcare, and I’ve seen it firsthand. Our work makes a significant difference in people’s lives.

I know I am a valued member of the SQL/LSA family. I am extremely grateful for all the creative experiences I have been a part of over the last four years and the support of my leaders along the way. I have led projects for the Population Health and Innovation Teams and have facilitated research & development of our analytics solution, AIMTM (Actionable Insights Management). Today, I am a Program Manager, contributing to the long-term effectiveness and execution of strategic initiatives across our organization. I am so appreciative for my STEM journey, which led me to this rewarding career that allows me to be a supportive mother, just like my mother was to me.

Do you have a child in your life who shares a deep curiosity in STEM? Be their champion! Would you consider giving your time and resources to help non-profit organizations like SARSEF ( Your engagement could profoundly impact someone’s life and help shape a great future for humanity.

Jo-Ann Cabbell – Program Manager, MBA, PMP, Sonora Quest Laboratories

If you would like to know more about SARSEF and how you can get engaged in STEM or involved with our organization, visit us at (