Jillian Harrison Named Regeneron Science Semifinalist

 PMHS senior Jillian Harrison has been named a National Semifinalist in the Society for Science & the Public and Regeneron Science Talent Search competition, a prestigious honor bestowed to just 300 students across the United States.

Jillian’s winning research focused on behavioral science and is titled “Diversity v. Representation: Racial Friendship Networks as a Social Cue in Interracial Interaction.” By being named a semifinalist, Jillian will receive a $2,000 scholarship award with an additional $2,000 going to the PMHS Science Research Program.

“I screamed a little bit,” said Jillian about the moment she learned she had been named a semifinalist. “Then I apologized for disrupting class.”

Below is Jillian’s abstract, explaining her experiment:

“As racial diversity in the United States is rapidly increasing, it is crucial that we understand how to facilitate beneficial interaction between people of different races. Before meeting a person of another race, people use meaningful pieces of information (cues) to predict how they will be perceived. One important cue is the racial makeup of an interaction partner’s friend group. Existing research suggests that, for Black individuals, seeing White and Black friends in a White person’s friend group improves their expectations for an interaction with that White person. However, it has remained unclear if this cue is effective because Black individuals see the representation of their own race or because they see diversity in general.

To explore this, I examined Black participants’ expectations for interaction with a White person with (a) all White friends, (b) Black and White friends (diversity with representation), or (c) Asian, Hispanic, and White friends (diversity without representation). Contrary to my prediction that representation would be more effective than diversity alone, there was no significant difference between the two. This suggests that seeing friendship diversity – with or without representation – is enough to improve a person’s expectations for interracial interaction.”

Jillian said she first developed an interest in behavioral science as a freshman and that she hopes to continue science research in college next year.

“During freshman year I thought I might be interested in psychology, which introduced me to stereotype threat and other interesting social psychology research. From there I decided that’s what I wanted to pursue.”

This spring, Jillian plans to continue her research by studying Hispanic participants.

The Regeneron Science Talent Search (Regeneron STS), a program of Society for Science & the Public (the Society) is the nation’s most prestigious science research competition for high school seniors. Since 1942, first in partnership with Westinghouse, then with Intel 1998-2016, and now with Regeneron, the Society has provided a national stage for the country's best and brightest young scientists to present original research to nationally recognized professional scientists.

Last year, Regeneron became only the third sponsor of the Science Talent Search, with a 10-year, $100 million commitment. Regeneron is a company founded with the goal of transforming lives through science and its most important and social commitment has been to support the development of highly engaged, well-trained and innovative young thinkers.

“The Pelham Science Research Program is very excited for winning this prestigious award,” said Science Research Teacher Steve Beltecas. “This is no small accomplishment and I would like to congratulate Jillian, as well as all of the science research students on their hard work. I would also like to thank Dr. Thomas Callahan, Director of Science and Math, our administration, the Board of Education, and the Pelham Education Foundation for supporting the program.”