Pioneer Scholar Spotlight: Hannah

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“My love of learning came from my love of books and love of words, which I think is a great foundation in general. The more I read and the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn more.”

Pioneer scholar Hannah, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has always loved school and loved learning. Reading, history, and English classes were among her favorites. As she grew older, her reading began to include the news, and that helped her connect current events with “things of the past,” and think about how things came together to form the world we live in today. It’s no surprise, then, that when Hannah began her Pioneer Research Program in the research concentration of political sociology, she decided to investigate social movements she cared about from an “academic lens” rather than the “lived experience lens” that was familiar to her.

Hannah’s research topic focused on two movements: the feminist movement and the LGBT rights movement. Her research involved how religion, particularly Christianity, and American politics have interacted with those movements, and how the interaction has changed over time. It was a huge topic that required Hannah to be very creative in how she focused her research. She decided to start from the bottom up. Since neither movement was a single organized endeavor, Hannah explored the work of individual organizations “that had both a national policy impact and also a grassroots impact.” She explored the history of the individual organizations, and how they have changed. Her research led her not only to the Oberlin database, but also to the digital archives of the organizations she was studying. Once Hannah had narrowed down the topic to a manageable format, she was able to organize her material and write a research paper of manageable length.

This experience gave Hannah several tools that are helping her in her first year of online study at Northwestern University. First, she learned focused writing skills that “are not taught in high school,” and “how to do research properly.” She is making good use of these skills in her Northwestern program, which involves lots of research, writing, and analysis. Hannah also learned to study online, a real gift for beginning university studies in a pandemic year.

One particularly important Pioneer experience was working with her international cohort, which made her comfortable interacting with her new group of international peers. “I think I would have been a lot more intimidated to talk to those people if I hadn’t been the only American in my cohort, which was a completely new experience for me, learning with students from China and Tunisia and Turkey.” Learning that the American perspective is not the only one was invaluable. This experience also helped Hannah overcome her “impostor syndrome” as a new student at a top university, since she has already proved that she can do work at this level.

Hannah is not sure what her major or her career will be, but she has an idea and a goal. She thinks she might enjoy specializing in library information science, using her research skills to help others develop theirs. And she knows she wants to use her college experiences to become “a better person, a better student, a better friend.”

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