On one day each March, Kathy Hackathorn takes a break from her job in TEP’s engineering department to judge science projects by possible future engineers.

She walks with coworkers to the Tucson Convention Center for the annual Southern Arizona Research Science and Engineering Foundation (SARSEF) Engineering and Science Fair, an annual event sponsored by TEP.

On March 12, more than 400 volunteer judges, including Hackathorn, rated more than 2,200 projects produced by elementary, middle and high school students throughout the region. Those students come from schools across the region, usually qualifying by placing at their own schools’ fairs. This was the 65th-annual fair.

Hackathorn always requests the elementary grades.

“I have so much fun with the elementary projects. I always learn something from them. They have such great ideas,” Hackathorn said.

In addition to supporting SARSEF in general, TEP sponsors about 35 prizes for projects, including between six and 10 prizes for renewable energy experiments at the fair. TEP recruits dozens of judges and volunteers to review written projects, interview students and help with other duties.

Hackathorn is one of the main judges for TEP prizes at the elementary level. Each judge is assigned to a team with a list of projects to rate, then meets with those team members to decide on possible awards.

Most years, she also interviews students about their experiments and conclusions. But this year, the interviews were canceled because of concerns about the coronavirus.

Hackathorn said she’s always surprised to see how much students know about electricity and renewable energy.

“I love all the positive energy at this event,” Hackathorn said.

The awards are scheduled to be announced on Saturday, March 14 on the SARSEF website.

This story is part of our ongoing series highlighting one of TEP’s philanthropic focus areas – education. TEP works with non-profit partners to develop invitation-based donation requests for education efforts from July-Sept. Funds come from corporate resources, not customers’ rates. Learn more about donations.

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