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Competition 2022

Daniel Lekan-Salami - Pioneer Prize - Recognizing Students With a Passion for Software

First Place

Daniel Lekan-Salami


Daniel Lekan-Salami, age 17, developed and programmed a novel social-media inspired app that earned him first place in the Pioneer Prize competition. Daniel created an app that makes group collaboration and problem solving more effective, allowing for rapid polling and data collection among a targeted population or community of users, such as a school. Daniel impressed the judges with his creativity, passion and tenacity to learn new code languages and his ability to solve challenges along the way.

“At first, the app was supposed to be more like Instagram,” Daniel said, “where people would be posting stuff and commenting — but that evolved into private chat rooms instead with other details.” When asked what advice he would offer other students looking to enter the Pioneer Prize competition, he said, “Do it! Prepare ahead of time if you can and don’t strive for perfection.”


Mentor Match: Eli Baird

Isla Day - Pioneer Prize - Recognizing Students With a Passion for Software

Second Place

Isla Day


Isla designed and programmed a virtual reality (VR) experience that users could explore and interact with using an Oculus device. Isla described the design as “a magical forest scene where you can walk around, move, and carry certain items…an alternate reality that’s stress free and beautiful to experience”. To develop the experience, Isla used C# programming language with the Unity gaming engine and platform.


Mentor Match: Hannah Tardie & James Rutter

Third Place

Noah Zemans


Noah’s project concept was to build a solar-powered “smart” clock and alarm system using microcontroller electronics and sensors. He lasercut a wooden box and installed an Arduino microcontroller connected to an OLED screen, powered by a solar panel on top. While not quite fully operational by the end of the competition, Noah learned and applied a lot of new skills towards building the project.


Mentor Match: Hannah Tardie & James Rutter

Competition 2021

The 2021 competitors really embodied the ideals of the Pioneer Prize: Whether they’d ever coded before or not, everyone pushed their own boundaries of excellence and grew new skills that really advantaged them — and they did all of this in addition to their school curriculum.
Ian Bowden - Pioneer Prize - Recognizing Students With a Passion for Software

First Prize: $3,000 Cash Award

Ian Bowden


After careful deliberation, the judges awarded the first prize cash award of $3,000 to Ian Bowden, age 15, of George Stevens Academy. Ian conceptualized and wrote the code for a program that could auto-pilot a basic, store-bought drone using artificial intelligence for navigation.

“As a middle-schooler I played a lot of video games, and I wanted to learn how to code so I wrote my first game, which was terrible but I’d started to learn it, and then I heard about the Pioneer Prize and that really made me interested in code.”


Mentor Match: James Rutter

Isla Day - Pioneer Prize - Recognizing Students With a Passion for Software

Second Prize: $1,500 Cash Award

Isla Day


Isla Day won the $1,500 second prize with a web-based game that enhances environmental awareness: Players interact with Isla’s animated page using clicks to virtually remove plastics from an ice flow, helping to preserve the home of an adorable polar bear; along the way, players are presented with 22 ways to make a difference in the real world.

“I had no idea what this was going to be like,” according to Isla Day, age 14, from George Stevens Academy, “But I learned a lot and it was good so I’m glad I did it!”

According to her mentor, Eli Baird, “Isla had this great idea and it was ambitious because she’d never coded before. We were impressed she took on this coding challenge: She learned a ton, animated her illustrations and made her idea come to life.”


Mentor Match: Eli Baird

Third Prize: $500 Cash Award

Khang Nguyen


Third prize of $500 was awarded to first-time competitor Khang Nguyen, age 17, also from George Stevens Academy. Khang developed a working prototype for a website that helps users choose which destinations align with their travel objectives, using factors such as budget, climate, and more.


Mentor Match: Eli Baird

The 2021 competition producers included Baird, Todd Gilmour and Marion Dillon Morris, all of whom helped ensure the success of the competition with dedicated service behind the scenes of the five-month long annual competition.

“The Pioneer Prize competition challenges students to learn life-building skills that can have such an impact on their lives moving forward. I’m always so impressed with what they come up with, it’s very inspiring!”
Marion Dillon Morris, Executive Producer, Pioneer Prize

This year’s challenge was the first to incorporate a design-thinking session, in which students learned how to structure research with potential users and build ‘empathy maps’ to craft a well-scaled ‘solution path’ for their project. “The design-thinking session was composed of a mix of legacy and first-time participants,” according to Gilmour, “and it’s structured so that everyone advances their ideas, their creative-thinking and these career-building skills up a level.”

When asked if she would join again next year, Isla Day replied, “Oh, yeah! And I’m going to get my friends to join too!”

Competition 2020

The quality of the submissions this year made selecting a winner a real and exciting challenge for the judges. It’s exciting, inspiring and impressive to see the creative and cognitive ability of these students manifest in their submissions.
Sam Bach - Pioneer Prize - Recognizing Students With a Passion for Software

First Prize: $3,000 Cash Award

Sam Bach


Sam Bach, age 16, George Stevens Academy. This is Sam’s second year as a Pioneer Prize winner. This year, Sam designed, built and programmed a retro-futuristic clock incorporating cathode (nixie) tubes. Sam wowed the judges with his “impressive submission, excellent communication skills and technical execution,” which involved a “great integration of hardware and software.”


Mentor Match: Scott Miller

Ian Bowden - Pioneer Prize - Recognizing Students With a Passion for Software

Second Prize: $1,500 Cash Award

Ian Bowden


Second prize, $1,500, was awarded Ian Bowden, 15, George Stevens Academy. Ian — a first-year Pioneer Prize participant — demonstrated “great initiative and impressive growth during the competition” to create an integrated system incorporating a range of technologies and a back-end database for his cross-platform real-time transportation tracker, so that he and his friends would “never miss the bus again!”


Mentor Match: Eli Baird

Chloe Sheahan - Pioneer Prize - Recognizing Students With a Passion for Software

Third Prize: $500 Cash Award

Chloe Sheahan


Chloe, age 15, (George Stevens Academy) a second-year participant in the competition, created a web-based, personal environmental-impact tracker. According to Buck, Chloe impressed the judges with her “perseverance, gamified concept and potential for social impact.”


Mentor Match: Eric Sabo

Gavin Eaton - Pioneer Prize - Recognizing Students With a Passion for Software

Third Prize: $500 Cash Award

Gavin Eaton


Gavin, age 14, (Deer Isle High School) shined with his prototype for a custom-built fishing boat with an electric-only drivetrain. “His was an outstanding project with an incredible connection to the community.”


Contributing Advisor: Kim Larsen

Honorable Mentions: $100 Cash Award

Colton Harriman


Colton, age 14, (Deer Isle High School) was recognized for his web-accessible boat-driving simulator, demonstrating “great vision and flexibility in the face of challenges.”


Contributing Advisor: Kim Larsen

Daniel Lekan-Salami - Pioneer Prize - Recognizing Students With a Passion for Software

Honorable Mentions: $100 Cash Award

Daniel Lekan-Salami


Daniel Lekan-Salami, age 15, (George Stevens Academy), was recognized for “the sophistication of his ideas.”


Mentor Match: Scott Miller

Special Thanks

The Pioneer Prize gratefully acknowledges the contributions of so many in the community who breathe life into this initiative.

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