Conducting research in STEM presents specific challenges to high school students. Creativity is essential, but so is having a clear methodology and specialized knowledge related to one’s topic. In this case, a structured mentorship program is particularly helpful. Pioneer’s academic system ensures that students have the support they need to do creative research in STEM. Research seminars teach Pioneer scholars the basics of research methodology and writing a college-level academic research paper, while small group cohort sessions and one-on-one mentorship by a professor help students acquire necessary field-specific knowledge and develop an original research topic. Within this structure and adhering to Pioneer’s rigorous standards, Pioneer scholars conduct original research.
Johnelle (materials science, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from the United States, says, “Structure [at Pioneer] gives room for creativity. We had the research seminars which were really helpful. We didn’t go in blind. They would tell us how to do the introduction, for example, and they prepared us to come up with a research topic…” Furthermore, she says, it was important for her to mold her ideas to fit Pioneer’s research standards, as not all potential research topics are feasible. “[In developing my research topic,] the creativity was there, but I also had to have an open mind and not be too stubborn, because I had to consider that my research paper had to be plausible.”
May (environmental studies, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from South Korea, found that having a specific format for how to write her paper helped her to structure her thoughts. “I think structure is important in research because it helps organize the big points we want to make. Without structure, our research could go in many different ways, which would make our findings confusing. So having structure and expressing our creativity within that structure is the most effective way to construct a research topic,” she says.
Macdonald (engineering, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from Zimbabwe, shares that his experience with Pioneer’s academic system helped him work more effectively and even changed the way he thinks. “As a high school student, I was in the position of working on a professional research paper and not just a research project in my free time. There was a structured framework, and it changed my thought process,” he says. Macdonald underscores the effect that Pioneer’s structured program has had on his time management skills. “Structure helps you waste less time…. You become more efficient in gathering your data. When you’re doing a literature review, you know where to refer. There’s a lot of information to deal with. At Pioneer we are given tools for how to cite, how to do a literature review… I think that structure helps you become more efficient, and when you’re more efficient you can produce better results,” he says.
Often, research entails striking a balance between structure and creativity. Pioneer’s academic system pushes students to be creative by requiring original research while providing guidance and scaffolding to support them on their research journey. This structure prepares Pioneer scholars to meet the challenges of STEM research.