On the Hill ... we make research "easy."

FSHA's Research Program, a four-year, cross-disciplinary program, teaches students to utilize college-level research methodologies and produce a research paper in the junior year and a substantial final project in the senior year. These projects stretch our students beyond typical course studies and introduce them to the challenge of producing relevant research and then communicating and defending their results.

Risk & Research

What does it mean to be a college-preparatory high school, like Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy? According to Nora Murphy, FSHA’s librarian, it means that students are ready to handle the academic rigor that greets them as college freshman. And as Murphy knows, one major scholarly stumbling block for many freshman students is the dreaded research project.

To help the academic transition from high school to college, Murphy developed our four-year Research Program, which is designed to teach students the research skills they’ll be expected to know after they leave FSHA.

According to Ms. Murphy, “FSHA’s research program allows students to master core research skills through repetitive practice. Rather than being hindered by the mechanical aspects of research, they can be intellectually curious about their chosen topics.” While there is some initial nervous pushback from students afraid of what the program entails, they are empowered by the freedom to choose topics of personal interest. Ms. Murphy elaborates, “We legitimize their interests by providing them the opportunity to research topics that may not have been covered in class otherwise.” As a result, students choose a broad range of topics such as Alzheimer’s disease, sexism in film, gun violence and gender misrepresentation in fan fiction.

List of 6 frequently asked questions.

  • Q: What is the Research Program?

    A: It’s essentially a college-preparatory research project. Students are able to draw from their US history, American literature and religion classes, which share several common themes—enslavement, exile/isolation, marginalization, identity/voice, nationhood and the American Dream. The students draw from those themes and pick topics they are interested in pursuing. Eventually, they end up writing a 10-page paper using a minimum of 10 sources.

    The goal of the Research Program is to give students experience writing the types of papers they will be asked to write as soon as they enter their freshman year [of college]. We’ve received information from a lot of college-level instructors and librarians that students do not receive instruction on certain necessary skills required for these types of papers.

    We also slow down the research paper process so that something that kids will be required to do in college in six weeks, we take six months to do. It allows us to really address very deeply how you go about developing and writing a proper research paper.

  • Q: What are some of the challenges students face during the Research Program?

    A: It’s hard for the students, particularly after selecting a general topic, to narrow it down to a workable, debatable thesis after a long period of research. It’s a little uncomfortable for them as we’re flipping the process a little bit. We require that they wait a long time before claiming a thesis. They want to do that right up front, so they can find resources that match their thesis statement. We require that they spend 8-10 weeks doing deeper reading of the research material and create their thesis from what they find.

    Our students are also in need of permission to take intellectual risks. It’s very scary for them to do that. They really want you to tell them the answer all the time. The Reseasrch Program gives them permission to take those risks; it actually requires them to do so.

  • Q: What are some of your favorite projects?

    A: There are some really great projects. One student’s first idea was that she didn’t understand why young women didn’t want to identify as feminists. She identifies as a feminist and a lot of people don’t, so she wanted to look into that. At the same time, she became interested in ethnic heritage and ethnic diversity feminism. So now she’s writing a paper about the ways that the feminist movement has not appropriately addressed the racial and class issues of many American women. Her theory is that the feminist movement is really in jeopardy and losing people, young people, who aren’t identifying as feminists. It’s so complicated and amazing.

    Another student is researching the post-World War I era and the way that the crisis and the trauma following that war led to an artistic explosion. She’s looking at the way writers and artists, out of a sense of hopelessness and desperation, began to define and create their art differently. And she’s come to that conclusion on her own.

    What’s great about this project is that while some of these ideas aren’t new to us (those of us that have been around for a bit), the girls are just discovering them for the first time. There’s this moment when this student was talking to me about the post war trauma that everyone was feeling after WWI, the sense of fear and the loss of security and predictability in life, and she just looked at me and said, “But wait, at the same time people were starting to create this kind of art and this kind of music.” She realized this connection for the first time—and that is very exciting.

  • Q: Why do you think it’s important that high school girls learn the proper methods and the ways to do research?

    A: There’s an expectation at the very early college level, the freshman course level, that they’ll be able to do a number of things independently. It’s our responsibility to prepare our students for that. We need to keep in mind exactly what a college will expect and know that professors do not deliver instructions on these skills. There’s not a lesson in place on how to use the database and how to use the library. It’s just an expectation.

    There’s enough happening in their freshman year of college that’s stressful and learning how to do all of this here prepares them for a situation in college where these girls can be the ones on their dorm floor who say to their friends, “Oh, I know how to do that. Don’t worry. I’ll show you how.”

  • Q: What are some of the skills the students learn during the Research Program?

    A: Through the research process, they learn how to properly identify information online and use it; they learn how to do smart searches; how to evaluate the credibility of a source; they’ll think about the information that they’re using and how they are using it. They also need to know how to document a source; when to know to abandon or discard it; when to know that an anticipated thesis statement is no longer valid—all of those things need to become more automatic for our students.

  • Q: It’s obvious that you love working with the students on their research skills. What else do you love about FSHA? 

    A: I love that being here requires me to take intellectual risks all the time. I feel that I am challenged in the work I do in a different way than the work I did previous to coming here. Prior to coming here, I was in public education and I was very focused on living within a system. I had to cope with a lot of obstacles that were in the way of the real work … that I was never able to get to. Here I can get to the real work.

    I also love being part of a community that is committed to innovative curriculum design, that examines what we do as educators, and that constantly questions if what we’re doing is in line with our mission. We are careful and thoughtful, and that thoughtfulness is something truly valuable.

Research "Easy" After Research Program

By Miranda Spears '15  

As I am now a freshman in college, I’m able to look back on FSHA's Research Program, and I’m glad that I was required to participate in such a rigorous research program.

As a first year student, I have been taking WRTG 1150 (your basic freshman writing class), and it’s been nothing but easy [because of FSHA's Research Program].
Continue reading Miranda's experience with FSHA's Research Program on our blog.

Junior and Senior Research Projects

Juniors and seniors have the opportunity to define, design and conduct original scholarly research as part of our commitment to preparing our young women for university-level course work.

The Junior and Senior Research Projects are six-month long, cross-disciplinary research projects that require students to develop their own topic, utilize college-level research methodologies and produce a research paper in the junior year and a substantial final project in the senior year.

Our school’s Library Program offers instruction in all grades on navigating academic databases, using predictive search methods to locate research material, and the use of multiple electronic source documentation tools. These projects stretch our students beyond typical course studies and introduce them to the challenge of producing relevant research and then communicating and defending their results. 

Here are just a few of the creative research projects created by seniors during the 2015-16 school year. 


Loretta Koch '15 designed an animated short film that discussed the January 2015 terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo. The six-minute film sought to explain the complex feelings and attitudes about immigration in France and how those issues connected to the attacks.


Isabelle Kouyoumdjian '15 researched brain tumor patients and the current health care system. This topic was personal for Isabelle, who witnessed a close relative with a brain tumor struggle to secure needed treatment. She translated the results into an emotionally moving dance performance that was showcased at the annual Dance Concert.


Ani Matevosian '15 researched food deserts (low-income areas without access to fresh, healthy and affordable food) and food insecurity (unreliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food) and how these create “the new face of hunger” in America. For her project, Ani created two paintings that reflected the struggle many low-income families face.


A thwarted school shooting at South Pasadena High School inspired Katie Altman '15 to investigate the NRA’s influence on gun control laws. Katie created an art piece that included photographs and audio recordings of the NRA’s president juxtaposed with victims' families.
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy is an all girls' Catholic, Dominican, independent, college-preparatory day and boarding high school in the hills of La Cañada Flintridge. Overlooking Pasadena, FSHA educates girls from Los Angeles, Southern California and around the world for a life of faith, integrity and truth. 

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy

440 St. Katherine Drive
La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
Phone: 626-685-8300

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