In the face of uncertainty caused by Covid-19, Pioneer’s POSS program provides academic empowerment to students around the world

Pioneer Academics > News > In the face of uncertainty caused by Covid-19, Pioneer’s POSS program provides academic empowerment to students around the world

Across the world, educational institutions are grappling with how best to address the realities of COVID-19 with their students. Pioneer Academics took an innovative approach with Pioneer Open Summer Study (POSS), a collaborative, research-based academic program offered free of charge to interested high school students. In three courses, students dove into the topic of COVID-19 from three different academic disciplines (an additional course topic in anthropology gave students the chance to look at how changes in society occur more broadly). 1078 students from all over the world enrolled in the program, working in 171 teams. Alumni of the Pioneer Research Program served as Independent Study Advisors, providing support and mentorship. The program culminated in a collaborative research project designed and executed by the students themselves.

The age we live in seems truly unprecedented–and yet this is far from the first pandemic humanity has experienced. In the course “The Age of Plague: Medicine, Society and Epidemics, 1348 & Beyond,” Dr. Paula Findlen of Stanford University structured her POSS course to look to the past to better understand the present–and vice versa. “New pandemics like the one we’re living through often make us rethink what we understand about past diseases,” says Dr. Findlen. As in all Pioneer Open Study courses, the content was designed as a jumping off point for students to ask their own questions and design independent research projects. Plague was offered as a case study to get students thinking about how societies have responded to diseases throughout history, and how the diseases themselves have developed and changed over time. 

“Pandemics and Globalization: Economics, Culture, and Policy,” designed and taught by Dr. Irene Finel-Honigman of Columbia University, sought to give students the tools and frameworks to understand the differential impacts of COVID-19 in a globalized world. Addressing students, Dr. Finel-Honigman emphasized the importance of the current moment: “You are living an extraordinary period of historical fascination. You are in the midst of history.” With so much upheaval around the globe, even the most well calculated projections about the future have been turned on their heads–which makes it more important than ever to teach students how to pursue the tough questions raised by the pandemic. “The focus of this course is to discover a new way of assessing, of examining, of analyzing complex projects,” says Dr. Finel-Honigman. While students are encouraged to do their own independent studies, Dr. Finel-Honigman cautions them to make sure they are using credible sources. “There is a big difference between information and knowledge,” she says. As misinformation and conspiracy theories proliferate online, it is crucial that students learn to distinguish fact from fiction. 

Finally, Dr. David J. Veselik of the University of Notre Dame tackled COVID-19 from an epidemiological perspective in the course “Pandemics Epidemiology: Societal Impacts and Strategic Response.” Each of the five teams in Dr. Veselik’s course chose a different country to research, and produced a research paper detailing that country’s response to the pandemic. 

POSS came at a crucial time for many students as summer internships, jobs and research opportunities were cancelled due to the pandemic. Kiran Ahmad, a rising senior from New York, had been looking forward to participating in a summer science research program before the wave of shutdowns. She says that most of her teammates were in the same position. When she found out about POSS from a Pioneer Research Program alumna at her high school, she jumped at the opportunity. As a team leader in “The Age of Plague,” she took on the responsibility of managing her group and helping them stay motivated. “I picked up more leadership qualities, so I liked that for me,” she says. 

Gayatri Sharma of Agra, India recently graduated from high school and will begin her freshman year at Barnard College this fall. Her summer plans were also affected by COVID-19; she had an internship lined up at a firm in Delhi which was cancelled. As an alumna of the Pioneer Research Program, however, she was given the opportunity to become an Independent Student Advisor for POSS, serving as an academic mentor for students in Dr. Finel-Honigman’s “Pandemics and Globalization. “I really think that even if it was a normal year, I would have still really done POSS because the opportunity is so unique and really gives you this rare chance to interact with students and teachers too. So I think even if I was busy I would have definitely taken more on my plate to do this,” she says. As an ISA, Gayatri hosted biweekly office hours with students to discuss economic concepts and elaborate on course material. She also compiled reading lists for students with articles that analyze the economic impact of COVID-19. 

At a time when young adults feel powerless in the face of the pandemic, POSS aimed to give students a sense of agency. They were some of the first students to engage with the global crisis from an academic perspective, making them active participants in the worldwide search to understand COVID-19 and its impacts. Gayatri points to recent surges of youth activism, particularly around the issue of racial violence, as evidence that high school and college students are willing and able to engage with society’s toughest questions. “We are the future changemakers,” she says, “We are going to be in the workplaces in ten years, we are going to be the generation that already saw a recession and COVID-19 and racial hostility and violence in 2020, and instead of just sitting here and doing performative activism or taking a backseat as an audience, if the tools that we receive in our education could equip us to actually make change toward a better future, we are the people who could actually make that happen.”

Quotes directly from Matthew Pohl

Pioneer’s Respected Selectivity

“There are very few selective summer programs out there that emphasize research. Pioneer is one of very few selective summer undergraduate research opportunities, and that’s something that’s known among college admissions officers at top universities.”

Pioneer’s Leadership mindset

“I believe Pioneer’s system really prepared students for the leadership mindset.”

Credibility through academic system

“Oberlin College is considered one of the top liberal arts colleges in the U.S. If they are partnering with an organization that provides excellent programs to students, then there’s credibility there. Automatically.”

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The Pioneer Research Program is the ONLY global college-credit-bearing program in which students conduct
research one-on-one
with a professor online in Pioneer’s rigorous system.

Foundational Research Seminars

Pioneer offers virtual seminars on research methodologies in addition to subject sessions.

Pioneer Writing Center

Pioneer’s writing center follows the highest ethical standards in providing academic writing support to
Pioneer scholars.

Online Library

  • About 400 research databases and journals.
  • Over 100,000 e-books.

Academic Oversight

Pioneer and Oberlin College jointly administer academic oversight.

Accomplishment Endorsed by Pioneer

It is well known that Pioneer holds the highest academic standards. Research accomplishments through Pioneer are trusted and respected.

College Credit

Pioneer scholars earn two college credits and the Pioneer Research Program is categorized as a college course, instead of just an extracurricular activity, on college applications.


  • Pioneer’s tuition is 6,450 US dollars.
  • As part of its social mission, Pioneer Academics dedicates funds every year to need-based scholarships for students to participate in the Pioneer Research Program. These funds are very limited and their use is restricted to cases in which the need of the students’ family can be reliably accredited. Students are eligible for these scholarships in countries where need can be assessed or if they are part of a non-profit organization or an educational institution that can assess need.

Dear educator friend,

In the critical process of preparing students to transition to college, you are key. The
ramifications of your guidance are far-reaching.

The Pioneer Research Program believes that it, too, has a role to play in preparing students of special potential and passion for learning. This is a role we trust you will appreciate knowing about. Our mission is to offer a deep and otherwise unavailable opportunity to exceptionally motivated young scholars who want to learn and research at the college level and to explore their potential for innovation.

What makes Pioneer a unique deep-dive learning experience is not just the mentorship of distinguished professors. It is the rigorous quality controls developed conjointly by Pioneer and Oberlin College. Professors (must) adhere to rubrics for

1) setting learning goals;

2) syllabus development;

3) oversight, feedback and evaluation, and

4) grading standardization.

This rigorous academic system is supported by thorough admission process and a high-minded ethics code. The combination gives students an exceptional learning experience that is brought to fruition in a college-level research paper documenting their findings.

You can follow this link Pioneer’s concrete academic system to learn more about the academic system. Academic quality control and academic oversight assure Pioneer’s focus is on learning and learners, and therefore all of our practices were built upon the following principles:

No conflict of interests Pioneer’s academic ethical standards
Because of its high academic and ethical standards, the Pioneer program has earned the trust of college admissions departments and formed the basis for the ground-breaking collaboration with Oberlin College. Pioneer scholars get two college credits upon completing their Pioneer research.

Click to learn about Pioneer and Oberlin College's groundbreaking academic collaboration.

Pioneer has a rigorous admission process. Students who have genuine academic interests and are highly motivated are a good fit with Pioneer’s values. Pioneer’s founding board insisted that Pioneer commit to a professor-blind policy during the application process, ensuring that applicants have authentic field interest and correct priorities. Consequently, no information about professors is released before admission to the program. This policy is much appreciated and respected by universities. Professor-blind admission policy
On this page is the critical information needed to meet your needs.

If you have additional questions, feel free to let us know how we can help you by emailing or calling 855-572-8863.


Matthew Jaskol

Founder & Program Director