When the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search competition posted its first-round winners online last Wednesday, Yena Kim and her Roslyn High School classmates feverishly refreshed the contest’s web page.
“I kept scrolling and scrolling until I saw my name,” Kim said. “I was completely surprised and honored to be recognized.”
Kim was the only Roslyn High School student and just one of 58 on Long Island to receive the designation.
Kim’s research coordinator and mentor, Dr. Allyson Weseley, did not share her astonishment.
“She’s extremely deserving,” Weseley said. “She was delighted and said, ‘Oh, I have to call my mom.’”
The contest, formerly sponsored by Intel, recognized 300 first-round winners nationwide, whom it refers to as “scholars.”
Forty of the scholars will be named competition finalists later this month. Finalists receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in mid-March, where they compete for a top prize of $250,000.
Kim spent over two years working on her research project, which examined whether male elementary school teachers, who comprise just 10 percent of the profession, can make themselves appealing to employers and parents if they adopt language patterns associated with women, Wesely said.
“My inspiration came from growing up with my father, who is currently an elementary educator,” she said. “He told me that one day some parents refused to send children to class if there was a male teacher. I was shocked. The parents had a huge bias against male teachers.”
“Most studies look at women in male-dominated fields,” she added. “Very few have looked at the opposite situation. I decided to switch things around and see what I could get from that.”
She designed and ran two experiments to explore whether male elementary teachers who used communal language in describing themselves would be rated more favorably than otherwise identical teachers who described themselves using agentic, or assertive, language, a district statement said.
Her research found that avoiding agentic language benefits both male and female elementary teachers, particularly in terms of perceptions of their warmth and how desirable people think they seem as a teacher, Weseley said.
Kim said she intends to continue studying behavioral science in college.
“My mind is always wondering about why people think and act the way they do,” she said.
“I’m interested in pursuing the link between education and psychology, so I can help young children live up to their full potential. I think science is the best way for me to do that.”
Kim and Roslyn High School each received $2,000 along with the award.
Kim said she will save the money to pay for college.
“It will help me continue my education,” she said.