Research and Scholarly Highlights

Fundamental to our research and educational efforts is the ability to understand and inform issues of equity and access across multiple audiences within varied learning environments. Our funded projects provide opportunities for our students to learn, by directly engaging with our local communities, schools, and educational organizations. Students gain diverse fieldwork experience in both formal and informal learning settings.


Connecting to culture through archaeology

Local high school students and educators visited Casa Grande Nation Monument recently as part of a collaboration our college is newly involved in. Linking Southwest Heritage Through Archaeology(LSWHTA) is a program that connects youth from the southwest to their cultural histories using regional archaeology as a bridge. This program offers students and teachers the opportunity for hands-on, behind-the-scenes archaeological experiences at cultural sites, in university labs, and at regional national parks.

This is a collaboration between UA College of Education, School of Anthropology, and the National Park Service. Funding and support comes from NPS’s Cultural Resource Stewardship and Science Program and the Western National Parks Association. Cory Knox is the director of this project and the co-PIs are Sara Chavarria from our college, and Barbara Mills, professor of Anthropology. Read more in the AZ Daily Star article.

Examining the relationship between teaching practices and peer victimization

Peer victimization negatively impacts academic, psychological, and physical functioning in children. Studies have shown that whether and how children defend their victimized peers has a significant impact on victims’ adjustment. By examining the dynamic between teachers and students in fourth and fifth grade classrooms over three years, this project will look at the complex ways in which teachers’ characteristics, practices, and actions affect students’ beliefs and attitudes, the classroom ecology, and, victimization and defending behaviors.

Research findings will facilitate the development of teacher training programs, anti-bullying policies and classroom management strategies. Funded by NSF, the Co PIs on this project are Jina Yoon, Sheri Bauman, and Russ Toomey of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Photo by Lanelle Ladero

How do international students manage in American higher education classrooms?

With over a million international students studying in US universities today, Professor Jenny Lee focuses her research on their experiences in American higher education.

On March 11, 2019, she spoke with Waseda University Assistant Professor Will Brehm on his podcast, FreshEd, to discuss the underlying political climate for international students and scholars. She shares about the rise of racism and hate crimes and the presence of neoracism on campus. Neoracism is a sense of a sense of national superiority used to justify mistreatment of those outside of one’s nation-state, culture, or nation. Listen to the FreshEd podcast with Will Brehm here.

Human-Ecological Learning, Activism, and Community Justice

When one is learning in a high school classroom about the history of a local water contamination disaster, Corey Knox examines how the environmental issue might be framed.

The aftermath of a widespread groundwater contamination resulted in severe and ongoing health issues, lawsuits, and designation as federal Superfund site of an area that housed primarily Latinx neighborhoods.

Through research, interviews and artifact analyses, contradictory narratives were found when characterizing the contamination in high school curricula. This included variations in the emphasis on community organizing, the choices and consequences of economic and industrial development, and the importance of science and technology advancement as a solution to environmental problems.

Corey is presenting her findings at American Anthropological Association Conference this fall.

Her session is called, Science and Environmental Education in a Changing World: Human-Ecological Learning, Activism, and Community Justice.

You are Here.

University campus. Education college. The heat of a Tucson summer.

High school students from our Upward Bound program attended a summer camp around spatial thinking and digital mapping. Students were challenged to utilize spatial thinking by exploring a variety of maps, and by writing narratives revolving around physical locations and spatial elements in their community. When students learned to compose a StoryMap, or an organized narration of images, words, and map legends, which parts of that practice would we call digital literacy? Why are those skills necessary in today’s technology-rich learning environments? And, how does being skilled in digital literacy tie into being a successful student in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math?

To address such questions, PI Blaine Smith created this summer camp curriculum with funding from a Research, Discovery, and Innovation (RDI) faculty seed grant in order to advance knowledge and understanding in education, geospatial science, and technology.

Alex Ruff and Sara Chavarria are co-PIs on this project, Examining Adolescents’ Spatial Thinking through Community-Based Multimodal StoryMaps.

Designing with community in mind

Associate Professor Jill Castek is the principal investigator on a new project supported by the National Science Foundation on how best to develop inclusive studio-based learning environments. Castek and Assistant Professor Blaine Smith will be collaborating across campus with Kevin Bonine, Jennifer Nichols, and Leslie Sult from UA Biosphere 2, and the UA Libraries, respectively. The University of Arizona team that also includes the STEM Learning Center, and the Office of Digital Learning, will be leading the way in the national conversation on designing innovation hubs for equity and inclusivity.

Have you been in a makerspace or an innovation hub? They are popping up in libraries, schools, and community spaces as places where you might experience 3D printers, coding tutorials, and even use older technology like sewing machines. More importantly, you will find people. People to teach you, learn from you, solve problems with you, and share each other's inspiration. You will likely find a community with common interests - a community that has the potential to cross income- and expertise-levels, age, race, and gender. We know that learning in these creative spaces and the digital environments they plug into can positively affect a person's relationship with skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). But, do we all feel invited to these spaces? Do all we thrive there? Can intentional design draw in the demographics that data show are systematically diverted from STEM career paths?

From February 25-28, 2019, Biosphere 2 will host a workshop for experts from academia, libraries, museums, and the like to gather, share, and discuss ideas. The broad national group will work through what type of learning takes place in these innovation spaces and identify barriers to access. The workshop outcomes will prescribe the pace and direction of how innovation spaces are designed. Importantly, the UA team will provide the National Science Foundation a summarized list of principles and assessments to anchor the future of digital learning in studio-based environments like makerspaces and suggest ways to facilitate community building specific to online learning.

More about this topic on

Disrupting bullying behaviors

In an effort to provide teachers with curricular resources for incorporating anti-bullying lessons into social studies content, William Smith, Jina Yoon, and Charlotte Iurino are working to disrupt bullying behaviors in middle and high school. The initial phase of research includes outreach to social studies teachers, which was funded by the Smith Endowment.

Photo credit: Erick Marroquin

Improving bilingual school psychologists’ delivery of psychological services to English Language Learners

School psychologists work with a broad range of youth and young adults. Students and families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds could benefit from enhanced bilingual school psychology training. What does a bilingual school psychologist’s training experience look like? How does that training tie into cultural competency? Desiree Vega and her research team, including doctoral students: Dylan Barton, Lily Hammer, Charlotte Lurino, Michele Stathatos, & Jaclyn Wolf are investigating the training experiences of bilingual school psychologists. Existing literature in school psychology has only begun to scratch the surface on bilingual school psychology practice. This project serves to inform preparation provided at the pre-service level, as well as in-service training for professions, and is supported by Smith Endowment funds.

Youth Purpose as a Framework for Supporting STEM Engagement in Adolescence

In order to make classroom experiences successful in interesting youth in STEM careers, students must be able to view the content as personally meaningful and connect it to real-world concerns. Developing a sense of purpose may increase students’ motivation to learn by helping them to see how the knowledge they gain in school will be useful in the future to make an impact in the community. Lia Falco, in partnership with Arizona Project WET, is studying the effects of receiving AquaSTEM curriculum on middle school students’ sense of purpose and their interest in STEM careers. Arizona Project WET has a mission to develop water stewardship and STEM literacy in K-12 settings. By teaching content and skill while incorporating values and changing behaviors, it may be found that there is a greater sense of purpose which could compel one toward a STEM career. This project is supported by Smith Endowment funds.

Globalizing the Common Core Reading List

The Common Core State Standards and their variations influence K-12 curriculum, particularly in the teaching of literacy, across the U.S. and internationally. Funded by the UA’s language resource center CERCLL, Kathy Short worked with the Common Core State Standards exemplar list to pair those recommendations with global fiction and nonfiction. Short also found global fiction and nonfiction to recommend that does not fit a pairing but are books students find engaging and that connect them to global cultures. The evaluation process included appropriate fit with school curriculum and strong cultural connections. Please find these global book lists here.

Reviving an Ancient Whistle Language

We often think shouting is the way to get our voice to carry, but evidence of whistle languages around the globe prove otherwise. Whistle languages were developed specifically for the efficiency of communication between people over distance. On the island of La Gomera, one of the smallest of the Canary Islands, ‘el silbo’ is one such ancient whistling language. A large community used ‘el silbo’ to get sometimes-urgent messages across the dramatic peaks and valleys of the island’s landscape. If you did not master the language, it meant walking miles to speak the message.

With cultural shifts over the last half-century, including emigration, road construction and, the relatively recent development of mobile phones, the use of the ‘el silbo’ language has declined. Over the past 20 years, though, there have been efforts in La Gomera to revive ‘el silbo’. The community sees the disappearance of the language an endangerment of La Gomera’s cultural heritage. Eliane Rubinstein-Avila is working on an ethnographic case study of the current teaching and learning ‘el silbo’ in La Gomera schools. You can read more on this topic here.

Center on Literacy and Deafness

The Center on Literacy and Deafness is a multi-university Center funded by the Institute of Educational Sciences. The UA research team includes Shirin D. Antia, M. Christina Rivera, Jennifer Catalano, and Janna Dunagan. Their collaborations work toward the identification of instructional variables that influence Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) children's learning of literacy and language. In order to develop promising and effective interventions, the University of Arizona team has established language intervention strategies designed to enhance DHH children's learning of vocabulary and English syntax. More on this project can be found on the CLAD site.

Education has a part in new Biofuels Center

What if the arid southwest could yield crops that were profitable and drought friendly? The College of Education’s Sara Chavarria is collaborating on the Sustainable Bioeconomy for Arid Regions (SBAR) project led by University of Arizona professor Kim Ogden on the mass production of new biofuels and bioproducts in the Southwestern U.S.  The five-year grant of up to $15 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture includes summer workshops for secondary school teachers.

The participating teachers in Arizona and New Mexico will learn about the bioeconomy, bioproducts, and biofuels  being researched and will be partnered with a graduate student in agriculture or engineering. Together they will co-design lessons for their students. Learn more about becoming an SBAR teacher. This project was recently highlighted in UA News; read about it here.

How Adolescents Analyze Literature in Digital Environments

In this study, Blaine Smith closely examines 10th grade students as they collaboratively create multimodal projects connected to literature in multilingual ELA classes. Findings from this project will advance the field in understanding how students’ literacy-learning is revealed, and how it travels and transforms across different modalities in digital environments. The outcome will also aid English Language Arts teachers in effectively integrating digital multimodal projects to support literary analysis. Funded by a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, this two-year project looks at how culturally and linguistically diverse adolescents analyze literature through visuals, sound, text, and movement, as well as how the ideas developed transfer to their academic writing.

Cognition and Memory

As the director of the Cognition and Memory in Education and Learning (CAMEL) lab, Jonathan Tullis investigates how learning environments can prompt learners to capitalize on the strengths of memory, minimize the impact of the weakness of memory, and decrease the efforts learners expend. His research brings to light a better understanding of fundamental cognitive processes so that educators can more effectively structure learning environments to match the characteristics and quirks of cognition in learners. Read more on this project.


Upward Bound

As reported by UA News: Low-income high school students whose parents do not have undergraduate degrees will now have four continuous years of academic and social support to help prepare them for college life. The University of Arizona's College of Education has received $257,500 for an initial year of funding from the U.S. Department of Education to launch Upward Bound, an evidence-based program providing the social and academic capital-building support necessary to help students successfully transition into college. The team expects to be funded for five years and will support students in the Tucson Unified School District. Led by Gary Rhoades, principal investigator on the grant, a UA team will introduce Upward Bound modeled after the University's Native SOAR (Student Outreach Access and Resiliency) program, which trains UA students to serve as mentors to American Indian high school students. Read the full article.

Project POEM

As reported by UA News: Using images and data from the University of Arizona's Mars HiRISE camera, Sunggye Hong and Stephen Kortenkamp are creating educational experiences and tactile tools about the Red Planet to help students gain insight and interest in scientific exploration and study — and motivate students to imagine their future as scientists. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Project POEM, short for Project-Based Learning Opportunities and Exploration of Mentorship for Students With Visual Impairments in STEM, will involve 35 middle and high school students with visual impairments in a 14-month program meant to train them toward the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Read the full story.

Comp Hydro: Integrating Data Computation and Visualization to Build Model-based Water Literacy

High school science just got a little more meaningful. While learning about hydrologic systems, high school students will engage in using computer models to understand groundwater flow and use ground water flow to understand computer modeling concepts.  Kristin L. Gunckel from UA collaborates with Colorado State University, University of Montana, and Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies on this research project. In Tucson, Sunnyside Unified School District (SUSD) science high school teachers will have lessons that use the Tucson Airport Remediation Project (TARP) as the context for modeling groundwater flow.   Over time, by following the students’ learning progressions, the project aims to build better curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Learn more about this one-year project, funded by NSF and watch a video explanation here.

Teachers in Industry

With over 90% of participating teachers remaining in their profession for at least three years after participation, this innovative project offers teachers a combination of paid summer work experience in Arizona businesses and intensive coursework, leading to either professional development credit or a master’s degree. At the same time, it aims to retain excellent teachers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

UA College of Education, under the guidance of PI Bruce Johnson and project director Javier Lopez, partners with Tucson Values Teachers, industry partners, and Arizona school districts to provide a model of how these community members can successfully work together toward quality education for our children and youth.

Learn more about this 2.4 million project, originally funded by Science Foundation Arizona, with recent funding by Freeport MacMoRan Foundation and the Thomas R. Brown Family Foundation.

Evaluation of UA Micro-campus Project

As mentioned in Inside Higher Ed: University of Arizona wants to establish more than 25 “microcampuses” -- capable of collectively educating more than 25,000 students -- at partner universities around the world. Arizona’s Center for the Study of Higher Education will be leading an evaluation effort of the microcampuses, looking at a series of research questions including the experiences and outcomes for participating students and their reasons for selecting microcampus programs, and the experiences and outcomes for participating faculty, including as they relate to teaching collaboration and research production. “Quality control is the exact reason the UA microcampus will involve ongoing research,” Jenny Lee, a professor at the center who is leading the evaluation effort, said via email. “We will be surveying and interviewing participating students and faculty throughout the year and [in] years to come on a range of experiences and outcomes.”

Read more here and here.

An Intervention to Provide Youth with Visual Impairments with Strategies to Access Graphical Information in Math Word Problems

A team funded by the Institute of Education Sciences is building graphic literacy skills of middle school students with visual impairments. By allowing students with visual impairments to customize their work environment, and access graphics in their preferred literacy medium, they are better positioned to succeed in algebra. These students will then have a solid foundation to persist in STEM fields. Dr. Rosenblum directs this three-year, $1.4 million project, in collaboration with Dr. Beal of the University of Florida. Find more information on the AnimalWatch Vi: Building Graphics Literacy website.

Advancing Digital Equity in Public Libraries: Assessing library patrons’ problem solving in technology-rich environments

In an effort to improve library practices, programs, and services for adult patrons, especially economically vulnerable and socially isolated adults, seniors, English learners, unemployed and others lacking digital problem solving skills, researchers in Portland, Oregon will look at trends in adults’ digital literacy skills. These city-wide trends can then be examined alongside national and international data to make comparisons that have practical as well as policy implications. Jill Castek is collaborating with Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon on this three-year, half-million dollar project, funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Read more on this work toward digital equity.


As powerful geographic information systems and technologies revolutionize planning and operations in the military, the University of Arizona has launched a project to encourage ROTC students and student veterans to pursue careers as scientists and engineers with the U.S. Navy. Led by the the College of Education's Sara Chavarria, an interdisciplinary team has launched "NAVy Intelligence through Geospatial Applications and TEchnology," or NAVIGATE, a three-year project with more than $748,000 in funding from the Office of Naval Research. Read more here or visit Project NAVIGATE.;

Indigenous Teacher Education Project

The Indigenous Teacher Education Project (ITEP) is a 4-year project in partnership with the Gila River Indian Community, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Tohono O'odham Nation, and Tucson Unified School District to strengthen the learning experiences of indigenous students by addressing the need to increase the number of Indigenous teachers serving Indigenous students, schools, and communities. The project is led by Valerie Shirley, in collaboration with Jeremy Garcia and Kari Chew.

The ITEP will support a cohort of Indigenous preservice teachers in the Elementary Education Program, with a focus on Indigenous Education. Critical, and unique, the cohort will participate in the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI), to further strengthen efforts to revitalize and promote the use of Indigenous languages in classrooms. The$1 million project is funded through the United States Department of Education.

Innovative research toward effective diabetes management looks at the role of sleep

As reported by UA News: The University of Arizona has received a $2 million grant for a study to determine if adjustments to daily routines for youths with Type 1 diabetes can improve regulation of their glucose levels and enhance daily management of the disease.The five-year study will track routines such as sleep, diet, physical activity, school activity and diabetes management. It is being funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases."The ultimate goal is to know what aspects of sleep or other parts of their daily routines — and how families work together in those routines — should be incorporated into standard diabetes care," said principal investigator Michelle Perfect, a UA associate professor and associate program director in the School Psychology Program in the College of Education. Read the full story.

Read about related research


Research projects 2016 pdf
Research projects 2015 pdf
Research projects 2014 pdf
Research projects 2013 pdf

Access our research development support team information here.