Summer Journeys: Maggie Zeng '24, Research at the Highest Level

Maggie Zeng ’24 has a passion for research. After completing a research-based summer program in 2022, Maggie returned to Taft and, building on the skills she developed in the program, drafted an independent scientific review of research and literature related to Asian flush syndrome. Her work was later published in The Journal of Student Research, High School Edition. Maggie continued pursuing her passion last summer at the University of California Santa Barbara’s Summer Research Academy. Maggie earned four university credits through Pain and Prejudice, an interdisciplinary research track that examined the role of discrimination in disparities in healthcare.

“I was really drawn to the program as it involved higher-level research—something I’d done already—in the fields of public health and applied economics; both are topics I’ve never formally explored before. Our work in the Pain and Prejudice program relied on Stata—a programming language for statistical analysis—to conduct regression analysis on open databases. This was both new and exciting for me and allowed us to visualize real-life trends in specific topics relating to public health.”

Program participants worked in groups, an approach Maggie found particularly valuable.

“I thought it was important to experience, since that collaborative nature mirrors those of professional research settings.”

Maggie worked with two other student researchers. Their research question married the collective interests of the three and examined both the prevalence of physically punitive parenting practices in Asian households in the United States, and whether cultural and mental health influences can predict the prevalence and evolution of those practices.

“All three of us were really interested in the phenomenon best known in popular culture as ‘Tiger parenting,’ which basically suggests that Asian parents tend to hold their children to higher social and academic expectations and thus have stricter parenting styles, including emotional and physical abuses in certain cases,” explains Maggie. “For our research, we compared our samples by either Asian or European descent, controlling for participants’ mental health status, age, and level of education. Interestingly, we found very strong associations for older individuals of Asian descent agreeing that corporal punishment was a necessary method of discipline when compared to those of European descent; this relationship was actually reversed in younger Asian adults. In other words, our research suggests that older Asian generations in the U.S. would be more likely to use physical force on their children, while younger Asian adults are increasingly shifting away from physical punishment.”

The UCSB program consisted of a mix of lectures, status meetings with professors, and computer lab sessions, which involved loading databases, cleaning samples, and then conducting regression analyses and data visualizations. Maggie also attended “GRIT talks”— large sessions with professional researchers, and lectures focused on undergraduate research. Maggie and her colleagues often continued their work in the evening, meeting in the UCSB library to continue their regression analyses on Stata code, write their manuscript, or work on their capstone presentation.

“The capstone seminar allowed us to present our findings in an environment that reflects that of professional research conferences,” Maggie says. “It was really exciting, as were able to share the fruits of our research. Our topic was definitely controversial, so our findings stirred up some interesting questions and post-presentation discussions. Listening to the other research presentations was also very eye-opening, especially as it revealed just how expansive the field of public health actually is. I’ve known that public health might be something that I want to pursue beyond high school, but this program helped me realize that it’s something that I want to do with certainty. I cannot express how invaluable knowledge is to me.”

Maggie’s work was made possible in part by a Meg Page ’74 Fellowship, which was established to honor Page’s commitment to compassionate health care. This fellowship is awarded annually to students who wish to explore an experience or course of study devoted to the provision of better health care in areas such as public health, family planning, medical research, mental health, and non-Western practices of healing.