A Roslyn High School senior who won $35,000 Monday for research into why students procrastinate on class assignments says she sometimes puts things off herself.
But her mom thinks she's just very, very busy.
Caroline Trezza, 17, of Roslyn Heights, was named a second-place winner in the national Young Epidemiology Scholars contest, following judging in Washington, D.C. The competition is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which focuses on health care and seeks through the contest to promote teenagers' interest in public health.
Trezza noted in the study that procrastination could be more than just a bad habit. A student's mental health could be affected by the psychological stress of putting tasks off.
Her research included surveys of 168 Roslyn High sophomores and juniors to see whether there were correlations between their motivation and self-confidence, and their ability to complete assignments on time.
More confident teens were less apt to dawdle, Trezza found. She concluded that completing tasks on schedule is a habit that needs to be built when students are very young.
"If they're taught at a younger age that they're capable, they might procrastinate less," she said.
Trezza added that she sometimes struggles to get started on assignments herself. But her mother, Cathy, observed that Caroline and her classmates often carry workloads that would stagger adults.
"They're so involved in so many things -- yearbook deadlines and quarterly exams," said Cathy Trezza, who accompanied her daughter to Washington for judging, followed by college tours. "I don't know that it's so much procrastination, as trying to do it all."
Caroline Trezza is editor in chief of her school yearbook. Earlier this year, she was named a semifinalist in the national Intel science competition -- also for research on procrastination.
Roslyn High's research coordinator, Allyson Weseley, gave Trezza high marks for statistical analysis, coupled with an unusual degree of persistence. In May, the teen undertook a second round of student surveys, after initial surveys in March proved inconclusive.
Weseley agreed that children need to learn early that persistence pays off. For example, she said, a child who has just assembled a jigsaw puzzle might better be told, "You must have worked hard on that," rather than, "You must be smart."
Still, as a mother of two, Weseley knows there are times when children will undertake projects that simply prove too difficult for their age levels. "I think this is all very tricky," she said.
CAROLINE TREZZA'S RESEARCH PROJECT
Title: "The Relationships between Academic Procrastination and Beliefs about Effort and Capability in High School Students"
Procedure: 79 sophomores at Roslyn High School were initially surveyed to measure the degree to which they procrastinated on school assignments, their fear of failure and their drive for perfection. In a follow-up, 89 juniors were surveyed to also measure self-efficacy -- the belief they could succeed in their tasks.
Findings: Students motivated to strive for perfection and confident they could succeed in tasks were less likely to procrastinate. More than 70 percent agreed they had put off school assignments they didn't like; 40 percent regretted procrastinating, but didn't know how to break the habit.
-- John Hildebrand