Pioneer Scholar Spotlight: Tobi

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Spotlight Tobi

“I tend to like things that are a bit hard and challenging, so I like math a lot.”

Pioneer scholar Tobi, from Abuja, Nigeria, is both an artist and a mathematician. She enjoys tie dying, although she says she’s not a very good artist. She is obviously a brilliant mathematician, since her Pioneer Research Program research was published in the prestigious, selective Journal of Integer Sequences.

In fact, Tobi used art as part of her research. Her research concentration involved Fibonacci numbers and tiling proofs, a mathematical concept that can be illustrated as squares or rectangles (dominoes) arranged in a rectangle. Tobi wondered what mathematical formulas might result from tiling a square instead of a rectangle. And she began visually, drawing squares and rectangles in squares of various sizes over pages and pages of notebook paper. Using that work as a beginning, she was able to derive her completely original formulas, making a significant contribution to the field of mathematics.

That sounds like a simpler process than it actually was. When Tobi began her Pioneer Research Program, she found herself confronting completely new material, math of a kind she hadn’t encountered in high school. To catch up, she used the book that her professor had recommended to teach herself the important concepts. “The first time I read it, I would most likely not understand anything,” she said, but she would go over the material multiple times until it made sense to her. Then, as she studied following chapters, something she had already learned would connect with the new concept, and by the time she participated in her group sessions with her cohort, she would be prepared with questions to help her understand more.

Tobi’s research approach was unique in part because she was doing something that hadn’t been done before. When she began to look for other studies on her topic, using the Oberlin database, “I didn’t actually find anything related,” she said. Once her research paper was complete, she checked her results to be sure no one had already done what she had done, since unintentional plagiarizing can happen when working on a math problem that someone else might have tackled as well. But Tobi found that her idea was truly original.

Tobi gives a lot of credit for her success to her family. She’s much younger than her siblings, who have all gone on to higher education. “The last one before me has his Ph.D. from Harvard,” she says. Her mom always pushed Tobi and her siblings to do their best at whatever interested them. This gave Tobi the idea that she should be good at whatever she tried, and the confidence that she could be—even as a young Black woman from Africa in a field that more typically attracts white or Asian men. “Whatever group I find myself in, if I’m not the best, that gives me a unique challenge—not in a bad way, but it a very good way—to try to improve myself.”    

Tobi is about to begin her higher education, perhaps in both math and quantum computing, at Grinnell College in Iowa.

Dear educator friend,

In the critical process of preparing students to transition to college, you are key. The
ramifications of your guidance are far-reaching.

The Pioneer Research Program believes that it, too, has a role to play in preparing students of special potential and passion for learning. This is a role we trust you will appreciate knowing about. Our mission is to offer a deep and otherwise unavailable opportunity to exceptionally motivated young scholars who want to learn and research at the college level and to explore their potential for innovation.

What makes Pioneer a unique deep-dive learning experience is not just the mentorship of distinguished professors. It is the rigorous quality controls developed conjointly by Pioneer and Oberlin College. Professors (must) adhere to rubrics for

1) setting learning goals;

2) syllabus development;

3) oversight, feedback and evaluation, and

4) grading standardization.

This rigorous academic system is supported by thorough admission process and a high-minded ethics code. The combination gives students an exceptional learning experience that is brought to fruition in a college-level research paper documenting their findings.

You can follow this link Pioneer’s concrete academic system to learn more about the academic system. Academic quality control and academic oversight assure Pioneer’s focus is on learning and learners, and therefore all of our practices were built upon the following principles:

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Because of its high academic and ethical standards, the Pioneer program has earned the trust of college admissions departments and formed the basis for the ground-breaking collaboration with Oberlin College. Pioneer scholars get two college credits upon completing their Pioneer research.

Click to learn about Pioneer and Oberlin College's groundbreaking academic collaboration.

Pioneer has a rigorous admission process. Students who have genuine academic interests and are highly motivated are a good fit with Pioneer’s values. Pioneer’s founding board insisted that Pioneer commit to a professor-blind policy during the application process, ensuring that applicants have authentic field interest and correct priorities. Consequently, no information about professors is released before admission to the program. This policy is much appreciated and respected by universities. Professor-blind admission policy
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Matthew Jaskol

Founder & Program Director