Summer research project explores pandemic in a new light

OPHS students present in-depth research about the impact of COVID-19


Photo Courtesy of Harshini Mohan

Mohan depicted the synonymity of face masks worn to protect people COVID-19 and the face masks worn by doctors to protect themselves from the Black Plague, as well as other similarities of the extremities of both pandemics.

Shoshana Medved and Sabrina Thi

When COVID-19 disrupted junior Harshini Mohan’s summer plans, she didn’t surrender; instead, she formed a group of seven Oak Park High School students who challenged the virus back. The team examined the pandemic’s significance through an independent research project as part of the Pioneer Open Summer Study, which is a distinguished online program judged by an academic panel. The research began in July and was presented in late August before the September deadline. 

“I was looking into the opportunities I had for something I could do over summer that didn’t require having to meet up with people or go somewhere,” Mohan said. “[POSS] decided to create something new for students from all walks of life.”

Through the project, the students explored the coronavirus in a scientific and historical context, comparing the current pandemic to the Spanish Flu in 1917. As one of the student analysts, junior Emma Chau found the project to be educational and insightful. 

“We had to do research on infectious diseases and the plague,” Chau said. “I learned about how modern technology is affecting our ability to interact with the pandemic and how it’ll help us — and how knowledge of past plagues and past diseases are helping.” 

The project was advised by OPHS math teacher Robin Midiri, who Mohan reached out to at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. 

“[Midiri] is always interested in learning what students are doing and helping out,” Mohan said. 

Midiri helped set up meetings and organize the process, but stated that the program was very student-driven. 

“When they presented their research as a team to the POSS Committee, I was there,” Midiri said. “They did a great job!” 

Mohan believes the team learned about not just the pandemic, but about each other. Members all expressed interest and passion in the medical field, which Mohan said made the project engaging and fun. 

“We have a lot of pressure to try hard and sometimes we forget to stay interested in what we are learning,” Mohan said. “[But because it was] something where we were doing it out of our interest and our own volition, I think that we all contributed differently and learned a lot more.”

Chau agreed with Mohan’s sentiment, stating that she highly enjoyed the process. 

“It was fun because first of all it wasn’t linked to the school, and it wasn’t something that I had to do for a grade,” Chau said. “It was on a subject that I really enjoyed so none of it really felt like work, and it was all something that I wanted to do.”

In Mohan’s mind, creativity was the key to her research. 

“If I could tell anything to the students of Oak Park, it would be to think outside the box,” Mohan said. “You always have to be thinking about what you can do that’s different.”

To access a Google Doc version of the team’s paper, click here