Pioneer Scholar Spotlight: Catherine

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“Whenever I paint, I think about colors and wonder about how we see color and how it’s perceived, and that has a lot to do with the brain and the sense of sight.”

Pioneer scholar Catherine’s first love, art, led her to her Pioneer Research Program in her current field of interest, neuroscience. Catherine, from Little Rock, Arkansas, was interested in how the brain perceives color. When she was in the 10th grade, an announcement for a neuroscience competition called the “Brain Bee” caught her attention. It was open to anyone, and so she participated and “I somehow made it to the nationals.” That experience gave her a basic background in neuroscience that she decided to explore further in her Pioneer Research Program, which involved the neuroscience of touch.

Over her high school years, Catherine had to learn how to be adaptable and self-motivated. She started high school at a large school in New Jersey, then when her family moved to Arkansas, she spent her second year at a small private school. For her third year, she successfully applied to a competitive boarding school that focuses on art and math, her two major interests. However, her final year of high school was the COVID year, so her boarding school experience became at-home school.

Adaptability and self-motivation proved to be useful skills in Catherine’s Pioneer program, helping her make decisions to take “manageable risks.” Her cohort experience in studying the science of touch introduced her to new aspects of neuroscience and “opened my mind to potential and possibility,” in addition to introducing her to “other people from all around the world.” But when it came time to choose her own research topic, after consultation with her professor, Catherine went in her own direction. She decided to pursue, in more depth and from a different perspective, an area that she had begun to investigate the year before for one of her science projects: EEG signal processing and machine learning.

Catherine’s unusual choice of topic presented her with a unique challenge that had a surprising side benefit. “I got to improve my communication skills,” she said.  Because her topic was outside her professor’s field of expertise, she had to learn more on her own, and had to figure out how to explain what she had learned to her professor in a clear, understandable way, so he could offer useful feedback.

Catherine took advantage of another opportunity that stretched her horizons still further when she joined what is now called the Pioneer Scholar Community Advisory Board. As a member, she was able to co-host programs for Pioneer’s wide international community of scholars. She found the enthusiasm of the Pioneer community “amazing,” and marveled at how they engaged in online events. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to have this kind of experience in high school,” she says.

Catherine intends to continue this kind of leadership participation in groups that interest her when she begins college. At Yale, she plans to continue to study her twin loves: art and science. She’s not sure about her career goals, but data analysis and freelance illustration are both possible, even at the same time.

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