Every child. Thinking critically. Solving problems.


SARSEF Fair award winners have been announced!

See the winner list

SARSEF to Bring University-Level Research to Rural High School Classrooms

(Tucson, Arizona) SARSEF is launching a new rural high school program across Arizona, connecting students with support and resources that are often lacking in geographically remote locations. The program will bring university-level research to high school students as they participate in whole class based authentic scientific projects. Teachers have been paired with Research Fellows from the University of Arizona and they will work together to elevate student research.

The program will focus on classroom-level research projects, emphasizing topics relevant to students and their rural communities. With a whole class problem-based learning approach, students will acquire a deeper knowledge through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems.

“SARSEF is unique in supporting whole class research experiences for high school students,” said SARSEF Director of Research, Margaret Wilch, PhD, “I am excited that the program will provide authentic research experiences to approximately 120 rural students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to conduct scientific research, let alone to interact with an actual scientist. The program focuses on freshman and sophomore science classes, not on science classes where students have already self-identified as loving science. In this way, we hope the program will provide greater access to science, enabling students to experience the creativity of thinking like a scientist and doing science.”

Teachers and Research Fellows received training on how to lead whole class research inquiry and design projects with Margaret Wilch, PhD at the American Museum of Natural History’s Southwestern Research Station in Portal, Arizona. Classroom research project topics were chosen based on concern and relevancy to there rural community.

Teachers and Research Fellows will be awarded with $2,000 stipends supported by the Office of Societal Impact, UArizona Research, Innovation and Impact. Additional programmatic support comes from the Thomas R. Brown Family Foundations.

Four high schools across Arizona are participating in the new Rural High School Program:

  • CAS High School Douglas in Douglas, Arizona with teacher Sharon Christie and Research Fellow Ciara Garcia, PhD candidate in Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona.
  • Safford High School in Safford, Arizona with teacher Kami Downing and Research Fellow Jay Goldberg, Postdoctoral Researcher in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona.
  • Sahuarita High School in Sahuarita, Arizona with teacher Gavin Lehr and Research Fellow Katherine Hovanes, Postdoctoral Researcher in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona.
  • Willcox High School in Willcox, Arizona with teacher Ty White and Research Fellow Savannah Fuqua, PhD Student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona.

Words From our Teachers and Research Fellows

“As a rural community on the border, there are limited opportunities for us to participate in STEM activities like those that SARSEF offer. Not only will my students learn a lot from this project, they’ll also be exposed to things that they wouldn’t normally encounter. I’m excited to work with a plant scientist and know this collaboration will have great impact in both Douglas and Agua Prieta.” -Sharon Christie, Teacher, CAS High School

“Microbes do a remarkable amount for plants, animals, and humans. We want to see how the microbes on local plants around Douglas impact plant growth. Students will choose plants they’re interested in so that they can see how science has relevance to the world around them.” -Ciara Garcia, Research Fellow, PhD candidate, Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona (paired with Sharon Christie)

“I chose to be part of the SARSEF program so that I can help my students actively take part in real and meaningful science research.” -Kami Downing, Teacher, Safford High School

“We’re going to have the students look at how diet impacts the growth of tobacco hornworms. The students will play an active role in deciding what interests them as the tobacco hornworms grow and change – from life cycle to behavior to size.” -Jay Goldberg, Research Fellow, Postdoctoral Researcher, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona (paired with Kami Downing)

“This is exactly what I’ve been wanting to do in my freshman-level science classes but with more support and connections to scientists than could have been possible without SARSEF’s new program. Even science topics that sound in the weeds can easily be connected to not only our day-to-day lives, but also real-world problems and challenges and how we can solve them. This project is no exception.”

“I’m confident that 95% of my students have not done science to the degree that this project allows for. They’ve never had the flexibility to start a project from scratch based on their own interest and curiosity. Because the project includes planting native plants in an area currently invaded by buffel grass, this is a resource that will create opportunity for students in all of my classes for years to come.” -Gavin Lehr, Teacher, Sahuarita High School

“We are installing a pollinator garden then having students investigate the relationship between the plants and the pollinators. We’re going to give students as much opportunity as possible to come up with their own questions in a diverse pollinator garden so that they can take ownership over their own research and get experience in developing their own projects just like professional scientists.” -Katherine Hovanes, Research Fellow, Postdoctoral Researcher, School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona (paired with Gavin Lehr)

“I really believe in how research projects help students develop confidence and competence. Working with SARSEF to do a full-class project, I get to share that opportunity with a greater number of students. Any chance the students have to go out and DO science is going to be a win for all parties.” -Ty White, Teacher, Willcox High School

“The students are going to work on a project to understand soil dynamics. They’ll learn about above-ground and below-ground interactions between plants and soil as well as within the soil itself. While the students will be able to take ownership of developing the research questions they want to explore, many will have potential implications for local agriculture.” -Savannah Fuqua, Research Fellow, PhD Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona (paired with Ty White)


SARSEF was formed in 1955 in an effort to increase student interest in the field of science. The mission of SARSEF is to engage Arizona’s Pre-K-12 grade students in 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 a high school mentoring program, the STAR Lab, 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