Science Research Student Gets Inspiration from Personal Experience

Alishba Zia

Junior Alishba Zia is drawing directly from personal experience in the topic she chose for her Science Research class in the high school. As a first-generation student (FGS), she knows precisely the challenges faced by the first in a family to be raised in the USA and to pursue higher education. 


Alishba has lived in New Rochelle her entire life in a Pakistani-American household with parents unfamiliar with the mores of the American education system. “First generation students face lots of challenges throughout their education,” she explained. “Some of these challenges include mental health issues, academic stressors and financial issues. They may also suffer from a lack of resources, such as tutors and therapists.” 


As such, like most people, she assumed that first generation students are at a distinct disadvantage and decided to frame her science research topic as, “Chasing the Dream in Education; Stressors and First-Generation Students.”


Last summer she created and distributed a survey to see if her assumption was right. Are first generation students at a disadvantage and, if so, in what way? Seeking input from both FGS and non-FGS she determined details about their demographics, financial, education level, academic status, and mental health. Alishba’s outreach drew responses from 920 students from around the country.  


When she completed the data analysis her results were surprising. “They didn’t exactly reveal what I was expecting,” she said. “I looked at the correlation and found that first-gen and non-first gen students faced similar amounts of stress regarding financials, academics, and well-being.” 


While she’s working with the results that she got, Alishba believes that the relatively small survey might not reveal the true facts and wants to pursue the topic further next summer and do a more thorough survey, focusing more on students of color. 


Meanwhile, she has completed her research paper and is practicing her presentation in preparation for the Regeneron Westchester Science and Engineering Fair (WESEF) competition at Somers High School in March. 


Alishba says her science research experience has led her to believe that she wants to work with first generation students and continue to do research and acquire a PhD. “I really have enjoyed learning about research, how to read academic papers, reach out to mentors and learn about presentations. It’s really helped me gain confidence in science.” She’s taking that passion and expertise to the elementary and middle school level where she’s mentoring students as part of the New Rochelle United Science Exploration (NR-USE), a club to encourage science in younger students. She’s currently helping three students prepare for a science fair on January 21.


“I’ve really enjoyed that. It’s so much fun.”