Pioneer alumni describe the unique experience of participating in the Pioneer Research Program

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Students wishing to participate in an extracurricular academic program may be overwhelmed by choice. While many programs have excellent reputations, each has a different focus and addresses different academic goals. In order to choose which program is the right fit, students must carefully evaluate their own objectives and compare them against what the program offers. Pioneer Academics is a unique research experience that allows students to accomplish something rather than just learning. Pioneer’s academic system ensures that all Pioneer scholars conduct authentic research, benefit from mentorship by carefully chosen faculty members, build communication skills and experience academic freedom. 


  • All Pioneer scholars conduct authentic research and write a research paper. 

Adam (engineering, 2019), a Pioneer scholar from Beijing, took a summer course for high school students at an Ivy League university the year before he joined the Pioneer research program. While he doesn’t discount the educational value of the university course, the experience left him wanting more. “It was very interesting, but it wasn’t like I had done anything that I was particularly proud of by the end of the program… I wanted to feel like I had accomplished something rather than just learned something,” he explains. Other projects have value, but authentic research takes learning to the next level. Rather than simply learning and repeating information, researchers actually create knowledge about the subject they study. Pioneer believes that high school students are capable of rising to this challenge. 


  • Pioneer’s academic system ensures a valuable mentorship experience. 

Pioneer’s academic system operates on a cohort model, with small groups of students mentored by a carefully vetted faculty mentor. Pioneer scholars have five sessions with their cohort and five one-on-one sessions with their faculty mentor. Pioneer’s academic standards go a long way to ensure the quality of this mentorship relationship; professors cannot feed ideas to students, but must encourage them to come up with their own questions and areas of inquiry. Pioneer scholar Thalia (2019, economics) speaks to the benefits of Pioneer’s structured mentorship. As a high school freshman, Thalia had already taken several economics courses and self-studied AP Economics at her high school in Canada. She became a Pioneer scholar in order to dive deeper and create original research. She says that Pioneer’s faculty mentorship is what distinguished it from her previous educational experiences. “Interaction with my professor was really the key to my experience at Pioneer… Before each [one-on-one meeting] I would send him a draft of my paper, and he would make comments raising new issues or complications… The arguments in my paper wouldn’t have been as complete without the thought-provoking questions he asked.” 


  • Pioneer scholars build academic and professional communication skills.

It is not enough to simply accomplish great things–you have to find a way to communicate those accomplishments to others. When it comes to research, that means developing communication skills at a range of levels, from talking to professors who are experts in the field, to discussing research with peers, to writing a formal research paper. Pioneer scholars do all this through Pioneer’s academic system. As these skills are often in short supply in academic and professional settings, Pioneer scholars are in an excellent position to show they have what it takes to communicate difficult concepts. For Adam, this was important going into college; he explains, “I wanted to show [colleges] that I had this experience of talking to different people and being able to present data in a way that certain people can understand… For me, Pioneer was a way to show that I have taken a step towards my goals in an academic way. But I also learned some valuable communication skills along the way.” 


  • Pioneer gives students the freedom to direct their own learning. 

Many other highly respected academic programs have fixed curriculums, in which all students learn the same thing and complete the same final project. Pioneer’s innovative system of evaluation and academic oversight allows students to have academic freedom while still being held to rigorous academic standards. Pioneer scholars choose their own research topic and customize their own experience. Thalia experienced this difference firsthand when she compared a summer program at a top university to research at Pioneer. “Pioneer gave me the freedom to pick my own direction, whereas [the other summer program I participated in] was more about assigned readings and writing essays on specific prompts. I think Pioneer just gives more freedom to explore what we want to explore. It allows us to develop our own research skills,” she says. Another Pioneer scholar, Hannah (2019, sociology and political science) from the US, agrees. The previous summer, I did [a selective state-level academic program]. It’s lovely and wonderful, but it’s very, very different from Pioneer in that every day we would go sit in a classroom for X number of hours and we would learn about the subject from a professor and we would have to do work in small groups with it on our own. We developed small projects but they weren’t papers… it was a very high school level project, it wasn’t substantial academic research. Pioneer allows you to learn on a more rigorous level… and allows you more leeway and autonomy for how you want to shape things yourself.”



For students looking to build academic communication skills, experience one-on-one mentorship, explore research with academic freedom and work toward a project that will make you proud, Pioneer Academics might be a good fit. Pioneer scholars embark on a one-of-a-kind research journey that puts them in control of their own learning, all the while being held to rigorous academic standards. Pioneer’s academic system ensures both the rigor and the support that students need to produce original research that showcases their own unique talents, passions and creativity.

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