The University of Arizona

STEM Center Staff

Bruce Johnson


Dr. Johnson is Professor of Environmental Learning and Science Education and department head of Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies in the College of Education. He was previously an elementary and middle school teacher in Arizona and New Mexico and director of outdoor schools in New Mexico and Australia.

Dr. Johnson's research includes the teaching and learning of ecological concepts, development of environmental perceptions and actions, curriculum development, and teacher preparation. He also serves as Director of the Earth Education Research and Evaluation (EERE) Team, which conducts research on children’s ecological understandings, environmental perceptions, and environmental actions and provides evaluation services to centers and schools offering educational programs related to the environment.

As International Program Coordinator for The Institute for Earth Education (IEE), a non-profit education organization, Dr. Johnson oversees the development and implementation of these programs and leads sessions on earth education around the world.

Chris Impey


Dr. Impey is a University Distinguished Professor and Deputy Head of the Astronomy Department and is currently in charge of all academic programs in Astronomy at the University. As a professor, he has won eleven teaching awards, and he has been heavily involved in curriculum and instructional technology development.

Dr. Impey is a past Vice President of the AAS, has been an NSF Distinguished Teaching Scholar and the Carnegie Council's Arizona Professor of the Year. He was Co-Chair of the Study Group that summarized Astronomy Education and Public Outreach for the upcoming Decadal Survey of the National Academy of Sciences.

His research interests are observational cosmology, gravitational lensing, and the evolution and structure of galaxies. He has 160 refereed publications and 60 conference proceedings, and his work has been supported by $18 million in grants from NASA and the NSF.

Debra Tomanek

Liaison for Undergraduate STEM Education

Dr. Tomanek is Associate Vice Provost for Instruction and Assessment and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology in the College of Science. She is a co-founding faculty member of the College of Science Teacher Preparation Program, which prepares undergraduate science majors to become middle and high school science teachers.

Dr. Tomanek’s research interests in the areas of assessment, teaching, and student learning have been supported by $5.5 million in grants and contracts from various agencies and foundations. She has served on the editorial boards of several research journals in the field of science education and is a recipient of the Distinguished Achievement in Science Education Award in the College of Science.

Dr. Tomanek is currently a member of the leadership team for the UA Association of American Universities STEM Undergraduate Education Project.

Jen Fields

Associate Director

Ms. Fields is currently the Director of Education for the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium. Ms. Fields has more than 18 years of experience in informal science education, developing and disseminating exemplary programs. She was recently awarded an NSF Geosciences Education Grant that supported the development of the ‘Exploring Sky Islands’ exhibit currently featured at Flandrau.

Throughout her career, she has been committed to improving the education and lives of children and youth, particularly those from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds. She has served as project director for a number of nationally recognized youth programs and has played a leadership role in the YouthAlive! network. YouthAlive! was an initiative of the Association of Science and Technology Centers to help Science Centers integrate programming for low- income youth into their ongoing operations.

Prior to joining the University of Arizona faculty, Ms. Fields was the Vice President of Education and Visitor Services at the Miami Museum of Science and served as the Director of their Upward Bound Math & Science Center. During her tenure over the UBMS program in Miami, indicators of success showed that 95% of participants enrolled in a program of postsecondary study with 60% declaring a STEM major.

In recognition of programs under her direction the museum received two prestigious awards: the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (2005), and the National Award for Science Center Service from the Institute for Science Center and Library Service (2001).

Sara Chavarria

Assistant Director for PK-20 Education Pathways

Dr. Chavarria is currently the Director of Education Outreach at the UA College of Education. Her outreach efforts have included coordinating multifaceted projects, including the development of curriculum units for PULSE (Promoting Understanding and Learning for Society and Environmental Health), the development of Summer Institutes for High School Students and for Secondary School teachers, the design of mentor hosting handbooks for K-12 schools, the design and coordination of internship programming for the College of Education, the assistance to other UA partners to design outreach projects, and the spearheading of the creation of a grassroots university-wide outreach organization - the UA Collaborative for Community Outreach and Extension.

Of special interest to her is to understand how to best attract and prepare underrepresented students for higher education success and as such her outreach interests focus on developing a pathway of university experiences for children of poverty that would illustrate the myriad number of career possibilities that exist.

Michelle Higgins

Assistant Director of Research and Evaluation 

Michelle earned an M.S. degree in Physics from UMass, Lowell, focusing on submillimeter laser systems, modeling 3-D radar scattering of tactical vehicles, and is continuing her doctoral work in gender equity in STEM learning. She is extremely passionate about providing a “safe” place for women of all ages to explore their world, to discover their own leadership potential, and to determine for themselves who can be a scientist or engineer.

She serves as the Board President for the Women’s Studies Advisory Council, the Community Action Chair for the American Association of University Women, Tucson Branch, Officer for Southern Arizona Science and Engineering Research Foundation, and a member of the National Advisory Board for Latina SciGirls. Michelle is an active member of the World Tang Soo Do Union of Martial Arts as a certified instructor and is the 2013 Adult Female Sparring Grand Champion.

Martha Ostheimer

Assistant Director for STEM Workforce Development

Ms. Ostheimer is currently the Director of Business Development for the College of Education’s Teachers in Industry program. She previously directed and taught in the College of Engineering's Interdisciplinary Design Program and for 18 years directed the capstone design program for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.

In each of these positions she has created and sustained meaningful partnerships between the University and businesses and industry across the state. She serves on TREO’s Talent Committee, The Tucson Metropolitan Chambers’ Workforce Readiness and Educational Alignment Committee, The Arizona Technology Council’s Education Committee, The Arizona Manufacturing Partnership Committee, The Arizona Commerce’s Authority’s Aerospace and Defense Business/Education Committee, The Arizona STEM Network’s Business Advocacy Committee and the Southern Arizona Collective Impact Internship Committee.

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