“When you actually are passionate about that subject, you will produce your best possible work.”
Pioneer Scholar Jon, from St. Louis, Missouri in the US, is truly passionate about international relations. Although a number of Pioneer Scholars have participated in the Pioneer Research Program in two consecutive years, Jon is the only one who has chosen the same research area twice. He did have to answer the question “Are you sure?”, but he was sure. And since his two research concentrations, Political Risk and European Integration, were quite different, both experiences were very rewarding.
Jon tells two stories to help explain his fascination with international relations. When he visited Washington, DC with his parents as a younger child, he wondered about what goes on in all the big, impressive embassy buildings. His father, he says, couldn’t answer all his questions. And an even stronger motivation to learn more came from his recent experience of peer tutoring for an Iraqi refugee about his age. They started with basic math tutoring, but Mustafa would tell stories from his childhood, and what it was like to live in the desert in a refugee camp. He talked about how “Damascus was the most beautiful city in the world,” and Jon realized “I never met anybody that’s been to Damascus before.” This intimate knowledge of the implications of American diplomacy for an individual family was eye-opening for Jon, and inspired his passion for making a difference.
When asked why he chose a second Pioneer Research Program in the same research area, Jon admitted, “This sounds very nerdy, but I do love the research.” He took joy in reading the papers for his research, and encourages new Pioneer Scholars to find the field in which they “just have to keep on digging into it, and you actually enjoy learning about it.” However, all this reading had its drawbacks. It was hard to narrow down his interests to a manageable research topic, and Jon needed help from his professor to do that. She helped him craft a research question that was “coherent,” if long. “My thesis question for that paper was something like 300 words,” he says.
Jon has begun his college studies at Washington University in St. Louis, where he finds himself well prepared for his classes, thanks to Pioneer. “I was learning about things as a 16-year-old that are only offered as a relatively advanced course in a college setting, and it certainly made me feel a lot older than I was.” The result was a self-confidence that has motivated Jon to begin his first year in college with classes that most entering students don’t feel ready for.
Jon’s self-confidence stretches far beyond his college courses, which he has chosen because they give him the background he will need to pursue a career in diplomacy. His experience with Mustafa and his family made Jon realize that he would like to change the way the United States approaches international relations, and so his goal is to work in the State Department. “I guess my dream job would be maybe either an ambassador or Secretary of State.”