Fatmira (Mia) Curovic poses with her prize-winning poster.

Staten Island Tech Junior Fatmira (Mia) Curovic won first place at this year’s New York City Science and Engineering Fair (NYCSEF) thanks to the help of her mentor, Dr. Sarah Berger, Associate Professor of Psychology at the College of Staten Island.

Mia’s research, which was also awarded with special recognition from the American Psychological Society, has earned her a trip to Arizona this month to compete in the International Science and Engineering Fair.

“The NYCSEF is a great opportunity for high school students to get involved in research before entering college,” notes Dr. Berger of this annual CUNY-sponsored event, which is the largest high school research competition in NYC with hundreds of New York City-area students participating and presenting their work in the fields of science and engineering.

Mia is the third student to be mentored by Dr. Berger and quickly impressed the judges with her poster, “The Effect of Sleep on Cognition and Motor Development of Infants.”

Mia’s research centered on examining the relationship between sleep and consolidation of memory—a project that Dr. Berger and her colleague, Dr. Anat Scher from the University of Haifa in Israel, had been working on in the Child Development Lab at CSI.  They invited several families to participate in the study, testing the motor memory formation in newly walking infants by studying the effects of napping on their ability to crawl through a tunnel. The objectives of the study were to observe the relationship between sleep and naptime since, according to Mia, “the effect of sleep on cognition and motor development in infants has rarely been studied.”

“I’ve learned so much over the course of two years,” Mia said of her work in the Child Development Lab. “I wouldn’t be here without the help and guidance of my mentor, Dr. Sarah Berger. She dedicated her time and effort into allowing this success to happen.” 

What most impressed Dr. Berger about Mia’s work was her “initiative, responsibility, and maturity.” “Mia was so poised as she practiced her presentation, it was fantastic to see her initiative rewarded,” said Dr. Berger of Mia’s high level of confidence and aptitude. During the mentorship, which took place over two summers, Dr. Berger trained Mia to perform data collection and analysis, and use the lab’s video-coding software.”  Dr. Berger credits Mia’s experience in her high school research class, which gave students the opportunity to get feedback and support from their peers. “It was truly a collaborative effort,” said Berger of the work done for the NYCSEF. 

Mia feels that her work in the CSI Child Development Lab has “definitely strengthened my interests to be involved with the field of psychology and neuroscience.” 

Dr. Berger also remarked on the importance of CSI professors collaborating with their students in order to help them acquire a useful set of skills that will help them in college. She calls it “one of the most important aspects of my job.” She points out that the students she has mentored “select themselves,” meaning that they take the initiative to seek out CSI professors for help with their research. She is also proud of her and Mia’s work because it draws attention to the science of psychology, which she says, “does not receive as much attention as biology or chemistry.” 

“I am proud to be representing New York as the only psychology project chosen for this category, said Mia, reiterating the significance of her award. “At NYCSEF, Behavioral Sciences is the largest category of the competition…it’s definitely great to be representing the scientific community as a high school student.”