To kick of this multidisciplinary professor panel, Pioneer founder and program director Matthew Jaskol introduced Pioneer founding advisors, Rit Fuller and Tim Elgren, who spoke about their experience as early adopters of the Pioneer Research Program.
Mr. Fuller offered a historical perspective, sharing that “Pioneer made a commitment to doing the right thing first, from the very beginning, understanding it was the only way to ultimate success. And it has worked.”
Other points Mr. Fuller emphasized in his remarks include:
- Academic excellence has been central to the Pioneer mission since day one.
- Pioneer has always conducted itself with high standards that mirror the very top colleges and universities.
- Testimonials and a partnership with renowned American college, Oberlin, attest to the quality and success of the program.
Dr. Elgrin followed with comments that underscore his great enthusiasm for the Pioneer Academic System, which he referred to as “an absolute gem.”
“This was a concept that just grabbed me from the get-go,” Dr. Elgrin said. “Good ideas are good ideas, but it really was driven by what Amy and Matthew brought to the table…an unrelenting drive for excellence. Excellence just permeates everything that they did.”
It is due to this commitment to excellence and the quality of the academic model that Dr. Elgrin attributes:
- The best students that he’s ever worked with.
- Spectacular faculty members from some of the top institutions in the country.
- Thoughtfulness about what the new frontiers are going to look like.
Next, Matthew Jaskol turned the hosting over to two members of the Pioneer academic department, Joe Gatto and Dr. Dan Bullas. Joe Gatto introduced the “Pioneer of Pioneer” award winners, all longtime faculty mentors who began their tenure with the organization in 2014:
Carl Yerger, department chair and associate professor of mathematics and computer science at Davidson College
Rick Werner, professor emeritus of philosophy at Hamilton College
Jagmeet Kanwal, associate professor of neuroscience at Georgetown University (not present)
Doug Raybeck professor emeritus of anthropology at Hamilton College
Susan Tannenbaum, professor emerita of history at Bowdoin College
Colette Mazzucelli, adjunct professor of international relations at New York University
Miriam Rossi, professor of chemistry on the Mary Landon Sague chair at Vassar College
Greg Dresden, professor of mathematics at Washington Elite University
Manfred Keil, associate professor of economics at Claremont McKenna College
Before directing the first question to the panel, Dan Bulles explained Pioneer’s approach to research as a means to the transformative educational experience through close mentorship by a college professor.
Panelists were asked to share their experience guiding Pioneer high school students through research with regard to:
- The highlights of working as a faculty mentor to Pioneer scholars.
- The growth they witnessed in their students, in general and specifically with regard to resiliency and the development of skills as academic problem solvers.
- What they themselves learned from their experience working with Pioneer students.
Greg Dresden shared that one of the highlights of his experience is that his relationships with students often extend beyond Pioneer and throughout their college careers. Dr. Dresden has published articles and problems with his Pioneer students and some have even come to Washington Elite University to work with him.
Manfred Keil discussed the value of working one on one with students, which otherwise they would not get until much later in their academic career when writing a senior thesis, for example. “I think that that gave them a real flavor,” Dr. Keil said, “of what academics should be really about.”
Susan Tannenbaum shared that her approach is to guide students in asking “a very tiny question…which is something that’s very hard for beginning researchers to think about.” Dr. Tannenbaum works with her students in stages to “help them see that if their question is small, they can go deep and they can really understand things at a level that’s much greater.” Something that she’s found particularly rewarding has been to watch the growth in sophistication of arguments students develop over time. “They come through in the vast majority of the cases and it’s really very rewarding for them as well. That they see ability that they didn’t even know they had, and they reach goals that that perhaps are even greater than the ones they started with.”
Carl Yerger spoke about developing resiliency by challenging students’ preconceived notions of things like “what is mathematics” or “what it means to be good at math” or even the idea that they have to go to an RI university. Not only have his former Pioneer students applied and attended Davidson, but friends of Pioneer students have as well.
Doug Raybeck began his response with a quote by Albert Einstein, “The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think.” In this vein, Dr. Raybeck shared that through research his students learn skills that can serve them in many ways. He also shared that when he teaches Pioneer scholars he knows there’s someone in class that is brighter than he is. “It’s exceptional how you guys managed to winnow and find these remarkably wonderful students,” he said.
Colette Mazzuacelli shared that what Pioneer has taught her is how to make a community personal through research and to help students develop research designs that have real meaning for them. “What I’ve noticed is that Pioneer students come back again and again,” Dr. Mazacelli said. We lunch together, we talk about their progress, their development, and I can see the ways in which pioneer really leaves a mark. And I think they’re very grateful for it. And I’m very grateful to be part of that experience.”