Native American Heritage Month Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Tara Archuleta

Nov. 21, 2022
Dr. Tara Archuleta

The College of Science is celebrating Native American Heritage Month by featuring Dr. Tara Archuleta, a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The College spoke with Dr. Archuleta, a Tucson native and UArizona graduate, to learn more about her journey to the university, her passion for teaching, and the importance of mentoring young scientists around the world.

Dr. Tara Archuleta

Chemistry and Biochemistry

College of Science: Tell us a little about yourself, your background and your journey to the University of Arizona.

Archuleta: I grew up here in Tucson and was a product of the public education system here in town (Tucson Unified School District). The science teachers I had helped foster my love for science. Being a true Tucsonan, I then attended The University of Arizona where I received a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics. It was at UArizona where I fell in love with research. Programs such as UBRP (Undergraduate Biology Research Program) and the MARC (Maximizing Access to Research Careers) programs helped provide me with laboratories and experiences that shaped me as a budding scientist. I then went on to complete my Ph.D. and postdoctoral fellowship at Vanderbilt University, in the fields of protein chemistry and X-ray crystallography.

In 2017, I returned to the University of Arizona as a Senior Research Specialist with the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department. Throughout my many years in research, I instructed students and research technicians in research techniques in the laboratory. From these experiences, I knew my calling was to teach science to others. I decided to pursue a Master of Education through the Teach Arizona Program, at UArizona, to better understand how to teach science. For the past three years I taught chemistry and biotechnology at University High School, in Tucson. I recently received the Southern Arizona Section of the American Chemical Society High School Teacher Award for 2022. Through my work in the public school system, I have been able to help share my passion for science and scientific research with my students. Over the past few years many of my students have been able to participate in various internship programs at UArizona (KEYS, Steps 2 STEM, STAR Lab, and SaferFoodCats). This Fall 2022, I expanded my journey as an educator with the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department teaching faculty.


COS: When looking back on your childhood and spending time with family, are there any favorite traditions or memories that stick out to you?

Archuleta: My Father’s family is from New Mexico, and I remember many family road trips through the deserts of Arizona up through the high deserts of Northern New Mexico. These road trips helped learn and reinforce familial and cultural ties to the area. During these trips we would also spend time on my father’s graduate studies work, which focused on Native Peoples’ water and land rights. This is where I received my first lessons in research and evidence guided studies, at the social science level. I will always remember these trips for their beautiful scenery and my cultural ties to the desert southwest.


COS: Who are some of the people who have made the greatest impact on your life?

Archuleta: My parents have had the greatest impact on me – they are my heroes. My parents taught me to work hard and to never give up on my dreams. They both worked to put themselves through undergraduate and professional degrees. They both faced many obstacles that could have derailed their dreams: my mother had to do her pharmacy degree again after immigrating to the United States; and my father had to resume his higher education after he was drafted to the Vietnam War. They have taught me the value of hard work and determination, while also teaching me that we must contribute positively to our communities. 


COS: What was it that drew you to your area of research and expertise?

Archuleta: My passion for protein chemistry and protein X-ray crystallography was cultivated in the courses I took with the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department as an undergraduate at UArizona. I was drawn to the concept of looking at atomic structures of macromolecules to understand chemistry in biological systems. I have always been the student who asked, “but why?!?”, and studying systems at the basic research side helps me better understand these questions. Basic reach is fulfilling to me because I know my work can be utilized by other scientists to understand potential drug therapeutics and cellular processes. As for my expertise in teaching, I was drawn to this profession over time spent mostly teaching those in the laboratory setting. I soon realized I enjoyed teaching others science and scientific technique. It brings me great joy to teach the next generation of scientist.


COS: What is your favorite part of being a scientist?

Archuleta: One of my favorite parts of being a scientist is being able to ask questions, make observations, and learn more about a topic that I previously may have known little about. I enjoy exploring the world around me, and I believe looking at it through the lens of science is the ultimate reward. Another amazing part about being a scientist, is the opportunities we have to spread our joy and enthusiasm of the discipline to our communities. I love teaching science and getting the next generation of students interested and involved in science research. It’s truly a pleasure to see young people continue scientific exploration.