Bella Guerra, 18, of Thorne Avenue in Hempstead, has achieved the prestigious rank of scholar (semifinalist) in the 2022 Regeneron Science Talent Search, one of only 300 students nationwide to do so.
Guerra, a senior at Hempstead’s Sacred Heart Academy, the all-female Catholic school on Cathedral Avenue, almost missed seeing the notification of her achievement on Jan. 5.
“Dr. Sullivan called to tell me,” Guerra said. “I was on my lunch period” – working remotely the week of Jan. 3-10 – “so I wasn’t looking at my email.”
Dr. Stephen Sullivan is the research director for Sacred Heart Academy’s distinctive four-year research program, which was developed by Science Department Chair Dr. Beth Feinman. The program has generated multiple winners of local and national contests in the last several years. Guerra is the school’s first Science Talent Search semifinalist.
Feinman explained why the young women of Sacred Heart have been claiming science prizes.
“Research here is a four-year program,” said Feinman. “The students spend their freshman year learning the basics of research” – analyzing professional scientific papers, citing those papers correctly in their student papers, and setting up oral and poster presentations.
“It’s definitely hard, when you’re that young, reading complex language,” said Guerra, but “it gives you an opportunity to find what you like and what interests you.”
Sullivan oversees the research projects that the Sacred Heart students create. He guides their entries into contests. “The Science Talent Search is a big deal,” he said. “It’s the one everyone talks about.”
Guerra started her project, “Assessing Gender-Based Microaggressions Present in ‘Friend-Texts’ at a Single-Sex School,” during her junior year. She collected texting conversations that occurred between Sacred Heart students, then transcribed and analyzed the conversations before formatting her results as a behavioral-science research paper.
“It’s about the concept of internalized sexism,” Guerra explained, “which is how women, as they grow up, are internalizing the sexist ideals that are either pushed into personal relationships or by society at large, and how that kind of internalization is exchanged between women.”
Guerra’s two best friends since fifth Grade, Kaylin Spinelli of Hempstead and Cayla Midy of Levittown, both seniors at Sacred Heart, have also won contests. Spinelli’s 2021 poster of her research project on Covid anxiety and sleep loss was chosen over master’s-level entries for presentation at the virtual convention of the Association for Psychological Science this past May.
Midy’s project, which examined the influence of country of origin, immigration status, and generational status on the attitudes of African Americans, won the 2021 Long Island Youth Summit and was published in the Journal for New York City Social, Economic, and Applied Sciences.
“All the research girls definitely help each other out,” said Guerra at a group interview with Spinelli and Midy. The three giggled about texting each other at 4 a.m. for support as their project deadlines approached.
“They form a sisterhood with each other,” said Feinman, adding that the upper-class research students helped mentor the younger girls.
“We take research at Sacred Heart very seriously,” said Sacred Heart Principal Sister Jean Amore, “We have faculty that are so nurturing, and students who work so conscientiously and collaboratively, so we’re really proud of our research program.”