Yaanik Kosuri and Lisa Bevilacqua began studying international social issues in a course the two took at Herricks High School.
The two Herricks who took the Social Science Research course are now part of a group of six students from Princeton and Duke who started a project in Zimbabwe six months ago to address issues of nutrition and to treat schistosomiasis, a parasitic infection that afflicts 40 percent of that country’s population.
Herricks social studies teacher Melissa Jacobs said the work of Kosuri and Bevilacqua is what she hoped for when she created the program five years ago,
“They’ve been doing wonderful things for five years,” Jacobs said during a presentation at last week’s Herricks School Board meeting on the program.
Jacobs said the Social Science Research course aims to train students to do “deep research” on social topics, learning to discern valid research sources from questionable ones and objective sources from subjective sources.
Often, Jacobs said, the research often moves into related fields of study.
The result has been a constant flow of research that has enabled Herricks students to compete successfully in the annual U.S. Institute of Peace Essay Competition and the National History Day competition, which offers modest scholarship prizes and a shot at getting a ten-minute documentary screened on the History Channel.
Herricks students regularly advance from the regional levels of the National History Day competition to the state and national levels, according to Jacobs, who said one group of Herricks students produced a documentary on Tiananmen Square strike in Beijing won the top prize in the competition during one of the initial years of the research course.
Some of the 30 seniors who are currently taking the course have done internships at the New York University Center for Global Affairs, and also have taken courses at that NYU school.
“It really shows us how to apply our knowledge to the world,” said senior Dan Cohampour, one of the students who did an NYU internship.
Group and individual projects produced by the students comprise written papers, multimedia projects or information databases like the one Cohampour created.
Senior Grace Oh studied the geo-politics of countries in central Asia, focusing on oil pipelines as political commodities. She created a blog on the subject that she plans to maintain.
“I learned a lot about countries I didn’t know anything about,” Oh said.
The research training starts ideally in students’ freshman year, according to Jacobs, who said there are no prerequisites or any requirement for the students to continue through their senior years, although she said many choose to do so.
“The goal is to get them started in freshman year and keep them in,” Jacobs said. “It’s really been driven by the students who really wanted it.”
Kosuri was among the first students who wanted the course, according to Jacobs, who said a fundraising event is currently being planned to support his work in Zimbabwe.
“Our kids are doing wonderful things and they’re really global citizens,” Jacobs said.
Natalie Li, a Herricks graduate who is now a sophomore at Harvard University, attested to how her experience in the social science research course in high school influenced her college studies.
“Social studies research inspired me to continue historical research at Harvard. It has immensely prepared me to work at a higher level,” Li said.