Pioneer Scholar Spotlight: Michael

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Pioneer research program scholar spotlight

“Pioneer has a very diverse population of students and you’re going to get a lot of different new perspectives by talking with the other students and they’re going to make your paper more balanced.”

When he was growing up, Pioneer scholar Michael was curious about how people made decisions. When he did his Pioneer Research Program, he was able to explore a scientific answer to that question, through game theory involving a combination of mathematics, economics, and psychology.

Michael, who was born in the US but grew up in Shanghai from his primary school days, had already studied all those fields and more. “I’m kind of fickle,” he says, and talks about reading “all over the place.” “There was a period of time when I was into history as well,” he said. In fact, he is choosing to major in economics and mathematics in college because that “gives me the most room to explore. With a degree in economics, you can pretty much do anything.”

Michael’s research topic had to do with why companies offer loyalty programs, especially since research suggests that programs like Starbucks’ “10th cup of coffee free” don’t actually generate more repeat purchases. To do his analysis, he combined a couple of different models that had been discussed in the group cohort sessions into a model that allowed him to examine factors like costs and profits. Michael particularly enjoyed working with a “real world” question: the inspiration for his topic came to him when he was in Starbucks, reading a book.

Michael also enjoyed working with his cohort peers, and found the community aspect of both his Pioneer Research Program and research in general to be especially rewarding. His interactions with his cohort peers were unexpectedly helpful. His group work included an extra session with just the scholars, who shared their ideas and perspectives. “When you run your idea by another person,” he said, “it will give you a different perspective, and maybe you can use that to expand your paper.” In fact, for Michael, Pioneer was a “transformative” experience, the point at which he could make the transition from turning to parents for help to beginning to build his own resource network. “For the first time, I was in a place where I got to know a whole lot of different people that I could maybe reach out to if there was a need.”

Michael also took advantage of Pioneer’s online seminars with faculty and alumni to expand his already broad field of interests. Even though a particular session might not relate to his research concentration, “It was really cool to be exposed to different things that were not covered in my high school.”

Not surprisingly, Michael decided to do his college work at Carnegie Mellon University, where he will have a great deal of freedom to take classes across disciplines. In addition to his double major in mathematics and economics, he might decide to minor in CMU’s “really good computer science program.” As an entering student, he’s taking a literature class and eager to join clubs and looking ahead to internships and undergraduate research, a way to add more small bits to the world’s shared knowledge.

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