Delco teen wins acclaim for depression statistic analysis

Published by The Philadelphia Inquirer

By Melanie Bavaria, Inquirer Staff Writer

POSTED: October 12, 2011

Lucy Wang will tell you that she is "just an average high school student."

And so she might seem at first blush. She plays field hockey; watches "mindless" (her word) teen television favorites - Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries; her favorite subject is "definitely science," and she is "very excited" to be moving on from Garnet Valley High School in Delaware County to college.

But then there is that $25,000 prize she recently won for creating a statistical model to predict adolescent depression.

While just "looking for free databases" to explore, Wang said, she came across the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, a database created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey collects data on health-risk behaviors of high school students.

She did a statistical analysis and determined there was a pattern of particular responses that could predict the likelihood of depression in young adults. She found that it correctly identified students who had symptoms of depression 83.66 percent of the time.

Throughout the project, she worked with Gann Xu, a local patent lawyer and friend of her family, but did most of the project on her own.

Her advanced placement biology teacher, Brenda Frost, described Wang as "very motivated, extremely independent, and internally driven."

Scott McClintock, an assistant mathematics professor at West Chester University, worked with Wang on the statistical analysis aspect of the project. "It is remarkable to see that from the level of a high school student," he said.

Her parents, both immigrants from China, are financial analysts. They impressed upon her from a young age that statistical analysis could be an "invaluable skill," she said.

She was inspired to conduct the project after hearing the story of Ryan Halligan, a 13-year-old from Vermont driven to suicide by cyberbullying.

She also had been moved by the suicides of Gina Gentile and Vanessa Dorwart, Interboro High School students who made a pact and died last year when they stepped in front of a train.

Wang said she sees her work as a "way to express my love of research as well as doing something good for the community, something of value."

She was honored last week in Washington for winning a fellowship from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

The fellowship provides money to students up to 18 years old whose work is to the "college graduate level and has the potential to benefit society," said Tacie Moessner, the program manager. She said Wang's "work was very complex and her stat analysis was impressive. . . . Her work definitely met our criteria."

Said Wang: "It is such an honor to be a Davidson Fellow; I couldn't thank them enough. It's really gratifying to think that something you did is valued by professionals in that field."

Wang's next step is to distribute her model to local therapists, doctors, and psychologists to "see what they think about it."

The fellowship money will go toward her college education.

She did not want to say what school she is targeting for fear of jinxing her chances. She is, however, very clear about what she wants to study.

"Ideally I would major in bioengineering and minor in economics," she said. "I need a field that is both academically and socially stimulating."

She said she was interested in continuing her research endeavors at the college level.

"My current goal is to get into college. I need to do that, and hopefully everything else will follow," Wang said, laughing. "I just need to take it one step at a time. I am not the kind of person who has every step of her life planned out. When I see an opportunity, I take it, I guess that's how I live my life."

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