College-bound teen has research published

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Undaunted by the Covid-19 pandemic, a young Merrick resident has won several major research competitions — including one normally reserved for college and graduate students.

Sophia Fitzpatrick, a graduating senior at the all-female Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead, won a prize for her research paper at the local level of the Junior Sciences and Humanities Symposium. She had her paper accepted by a psychology journal and earned an invitation to present a research poster at the virtual symposium of the Association for Psychological Sciences on May 26 and 27.

While the word “research” makes most students groan — especially when producing a 20-page treatise titled, “When Guilt Is Good: Can Employing Anthropomorphism in PSA’s Improve Climate Change Awareness and Activism?” — Fitzpatrick had nothing but enthusiasm for her project.

“I love this project so much, I talked about it in every single one of my college interviews,” she said. “I love talking about this. Stop me if I talk too much. I can go on and on.” 

To do the project, Fitzpatrick had to obtain information from published professional articles, design and conduct virtual surveys with both teens and adults, tabulate her results and write the paper in the strict style of the American Psychological Association.

When she submitted her paper to the Walt Whitman Journal of Psychology in November 2020, its peer-review panel would not accept it without recommended changes.

“That’s daunting for 17-year-olds,” said Stephen Sullivan, Research Director in the Science Department at Sacred Heart Academy, who mentored Fitzpatrick’s project. “But she sat down, she looked up new things in other journals, and sent her paper back and they accepted it.”

“That was such an important experience,” Fitzpatrick said, “a really important lesson that I will take to college.”

Fitzpatrick’s success is exactly what Sacred Heart science teacher Beth Feinman hoped to see.

Feinman, a retired MD, became chair of the Science Department at Sacred Heart several years ago. Young high school women, she noticed, tended to cross off certain career choices early on.

“My goal,” she said, “is to show them what they can accomplish, to have them not cross off anything — in science, technology, engineering, math, any of the STEM fields.”

Feinman developed a research program at Sacred Heart that starts in ninth grade. Students take a placement test to be accepted into it. For three years running, Sacred Heart seniors — and this year, juniors — have won invitations to present research posters at the APS convention, competing against college and postgraduate students.

The opportunities that the program opens inspired Fitzpatrick to join it, but science isn’t her only interest.

“Being a well-rounded student has always been very important to me,” Fitzpatrick said. She has organized climate change rallies, plays three sports, and is the president of the Sacred Heart student council.

Sacred Heart Principal Sister Jean Amore described Fitzpatrick as “an empowered young, compassionate, courageous woman who leads with her head and with her heart.”

Theology teacher Allison Haun called her “the epitome of a scholar athlete . . . an incredible leader.”

“Satisfying” is the word that Fitzpatrick herself applied to her research project experience, adding, “It’s just an honor to be able to show my stuff and see my work really pay off.”

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