Scullen student named as finalist in Google Science Fair [NapervilleSun, by Jane Donahue, 29/08/2014]

Trisha Prabhu didn’t know Rebecca Sedwick, the Florida teen who ended her life last year after being cyberbullied. But after reading about her suicide in the news, the 14-year-old set out to raise awareness and hopefully put a halt to cyberbullying altogether.

“She was younger than me,” said Prabhu, of Naperville. “I was stunned and I immediately knew that I had to do something.”

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, cyberbullying is similar to other types of bullying, except it takes place online and through text messages sent to cell phones. Cyberbullies can be classmates, online acquaintances, and even anonymous users, but most often they do know their victims.

Prabhu chose cyberbullying as the topic for her Scullen Middle School science fair project, specifically whether those ages 12-18 were more willing to post offensive messages on social media sites than an older age group.

“I found out that the younger age group was 40 percent more willing,” said Prabhu. “I was shocked. I knew we needed to focus on that age group and that is when I started to do work to find an effective long term method to stop cyberbullying.”

Armed with that data, Prabhu said she had to do something to force change.

“I realized I could use my science and technology skills to effectively prevent cyberbullying at the source, before it occurs,” said the teen.

She created a prototype for software called “Rethink” for web and mobile platforms. The idea, if adolescents were provided an “alert mechanism” that suggested they rethink their decision to post a mean message on social media, the number of hurtful messages would be decrease.

She entered the project, “Rethink: An Effective Way to Prevent Cyberbullying,” in the 2014 Google Science Fair competition.

“Google Science Fair is an amazing platform and such a great place to share ideas,” said Prabhu. “With my passion for wanting to stop cyberbullying, I thought why not give it a shot.”

This month, Prabhu was named as one of 15 global finalists, and will travel to Google’s headquarters in California to present her project to a panel of judges on Sept. 22.

“I am just so honored to be one of the global finalists,” said the teen, who will be a freshman at Neuqua Valley High School. “I hope that this project not only raises awareness about cyberbullying, but conquers it. We need to focus on stopping it.”