Mentors Play a Key Role in Supporting High School Students Preparing for the SARSEF Science and Engineering Fair

September 30, 2020
(Tucson, AZ) Forty-five high school students from across Tucson and Southern Arizona have been selected to join S.T.A.R. Labs, an acronym for “Students Taking Advantage of Research.” The program is a collaboration between SARSEF and the University of Arizona’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology in which high school students receive mentorship and resources to complete research projects over the next school year to be entered into the SARSEF Science and Engineering Fair. This year, S.T.A.R. Labs is 100% virtual.
Mentorship is a key factor in the success of student scientists, and program managers continue to recruit volunteers who can provide opportunity and guidance to the many students excited to get involved in research.
A mentor is a volunteer who typically has a research component to their career or studies. Mentors come from a range of backgrounds, from the University of Arizona as well as the community. While some are established in their careers, others are currently working on earning their degree. The common factor among all mentors is a dedication to helping the next generation explore and succeed in career paths related to their work.
Mentors support students by providing guidance throughout the process of planning, doing, and reporting out on a research project. They offer academic and career advice as well as access to the resources and knowledge students need to pursue their work.
Students seeking mentors might already have a project they are working on, and they are looking for someone to answer their questions. In other cases, students are eager to work on projects that mentors can offer based on their own work.
In S.T.A.R. Labs’ inaugural year (2019-2020), twenty area high school students worked with 14 different mentors to complete research projects. This year, the number of students involved has more than tripled, indicating how eager students are to pursue research as well as their need for support during the process. The number of mentors has doubled indicating how excited our community is to give back.
The rewards of mentorship are not just for the mentees.
“I enjoy working with high school and undergraduate students. It is very fulfilling and energizing because they don’t yet know how hard research is - shh, don’t tell them! Their enthusiasm, “can do” attitude and “sponge-like” curiosity is fantastic,” Dr. Daniela Zarnescu, a Professor at the University of Arizona shared. Throughout her career, Dr. Zarnescu has mentored over 70 students directly.
Additionally, mentors have the opportunity to watch as students grow and flourish in their own careers and lives.
“I am obviously proud of them all and happy for them as they develop their own career paths,” said Dr. Zarnescu. “I feel privileged to have known and worked with these amazing students. My very first high school student kept in touch through her college and medical school journey and even invited me to her wedding a few years ago-that felt really special!”
If you are interested in becoming a mentor to a high school student as they conduct research in a science, technology, engineering, or math field, reach out to SARSEF’s Director of Research, Margaret Wilch at All mentorship opportunities are currently virtual.
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 Research 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.
Over 795 professionals in the community volunteer for SARSEF each year, and 145 organizations support its programs financially.