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Understanding student resiliency during the pandemic

Posted at 3:17 PM, Jun 08, 2022

Rebecca Cho, 17, was one of the winners at the 2022 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair.

"It's actually really fun," Cho said. "Like when you get to talk to people about what you love doing and why you love it, you're able to find that connection with them and make them care too."

She made a geological model to investigate ecological changes over 20 million years.

"We could actually identify which parts of the Western United States are more vulnerable to climate changes," Cho said. "And those are the regions where we can focus our conservation efforts for the future."

She got the award in the Earth and Environmental Sciences category, alongside another 17-year-old, Anika Puri.

"My research kind of focuses on using the disparate movement patterns of elephants and humans in order to significantly increase the accuracy of identifying poachers all the way to almost 90% accuracy," Puri said.

Both high schoolers started their research during the pandemic and say they hope to be examples of student resiliency.

"Our family is very tight-knit," Cho said. "So like a lot of the things that they taught me while I was growing up was that like, even if you're facing difficulties, you still have to do what you have to do."

Clinical Psychologist Adam Brown with NYU Langone Child Studies Center helps people understand the needs of traumatized kids. He says there are many different kinds of stress and certain factors can overwhelm children.

"Like the pandemic, like hearing week after week about horrible shootings in schools," Dr. Brown said.

Many people think of resilience as a quality, but Dr. Brown says it's actually defined as a dynamic developmental process.

"Meaning it's not something you have or don't have," Dr. Brown said. "It's something that you could have a tendency for, but that could also be developed and encouraged throughout the lifespan."

He says what children need to thrive is at least one caring adult in their life who supports them.

"That ideally is a primary caregiver, but it doesn't have to be," Dr. Brown said. "It could be a teacher, a coach, a babysitter."

Both Cho and Puri say they had a lot of friends, family and mentors helping them through their research process.

"I definitely saw like the support system that I had, and I think I was really thankful for that because it showed me that like I have a lot of people who are rooting for me," Cho said.

Dr. Brown says the good that can come out of bad situations also contributes to resiliency.

"Post-Traumatic stress is struggling to do well despite adversity, whereas post-traumatic growth is positive outcomes because of the adversity," Dr. Brown said.

"I guess what keeps you going is kind of looking at the broader perspective and seeing, you know, where can we go forward," Puri said. "Like, how can we grow in the future?"

"So I think the pandemic took away some high school experiences, but it also strengthened, like what I want to pursue academically," Cho said.

Their advice for other high schoolers is to find what they love, and the passion will follow.