Pioneering students win cash prizes

BLUE HILL — For most of this year before the pandemic, 14-year-old Ian Bowden would catch the bus to George Stevens Academy. But on at least one occasion, “I missed my bus on the way to school — it came earlier than I was at the bus stop,” Ian said. “I was so frustrated because if I had known where it was, I wouldn’t have missed it.”

”My initial idea was really simple: it was just going to be [an app] so you could track a bus.”

Ian’s teachers suggested he enter the Pioneer Prize competition, which awards cash prizes for the best software projects by teenagers from the Blue Hill Peninsula and select towns.

“I decided to give it a try,” Ian said. His idea? Learn and develop code for a real-time bus tracker, so that he and his friends would “never miss the bus again!”

Once in the competition, Ian was paired with a mentor to help guide him from concept to submission of his project, which was independent from his GSA curriculum.

“It’s really fun to code — it makes me critically think,” he said. “To me, it’s more about the learning experience. The most fun part was when my mom got in the car, loaded the app, turned on the phone and I could see where she was,” while he was still at home.

Ian’s hard work paid off to the tune of a $1,500 cash award for placing second in the third annual Pioneer Prize competition. The program “recognizes, nurtures and rewards students who are paired with mentors to develop new digital skills that can help lead to high-value job opportunities globally, while working within the greater Blue Hill community,” according to a press release.

Another GSA student, Sam Bach, 15, earned the top prize of $2,000. He programmed and built a digital clock using gas-lit display tubes. Sharing third place were 15-year-old GSA student Chloe Shehan and 14-year-old Deer Isle-Stonington High School student Gavin Eaton. They each earned $500. Shehan coded a digital personal environmental impact app, while Eaton created a prototype for a fishing boat with an electric-only drivetrain. Honorable mentions of $100 each were awarded to Colton Harriman, age 14, Deer Isle-Stonington High School, for his web-accessible boat-driving simulator; and Daniel Lekan-Salami, age 15, GSA, was recognized for “the sophistication of his ideas,” according to competition founder Lee Buck.

When Ian was asked if he would compete again next year, he said, “I totally will — I don’t already have an idea but I probably will think of one as something happens that I’ll want to fix.”

Entrants in next year’s competition must be enrolled in high school or studying a high school curriculum and be aged 13-19. They must attend high school in or be a resident of one of the following towns: Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, Castine, Deer Isle, Orland, Penobscot, Sedgwick, Stonington or Surry. Learn more at

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