News Feature

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Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, June 14, 2018 and The Weekly Packet, June 14, 2018
Pioneer Prize awards $5,000 to Deer Isle-Stonington student
GSA student is runner-up

Ennis Marshall

Pioneer Prize first-place winner Ennis Marshall with Annie Piazza, left, and Marion Morris, right, of Pioneer Prize.

Photo courtesy of Geoff Marshall

Ennis Marshall, a senior at Deer Isle-Stonington High School, has been awarded the $5,000 first-place Pioneer Prize for the best software project by a high school-aged teen on the Blue Hill Peninsula. Juliette Claybaugh, a freshman at George Stevens Academy, has been awarded $500 as the runner-up. Neither Marshall nor Claybaugh had done any programming before this year.

The Pioneer Prize is an annual competition that celebrates the passion and perseverance of high school-aged students in pursuing their interests in software and other well-paid fields, offering resources and mentorship to help them execute innovative projects.

Marshall, from Little Deer Isle, who started his first programming course at DISHS in September, used online resources and mentorship provided by the Pioneer Prize to produce a system that lets him control a model train set in his home from any connected smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer in the world. He adapted an inexpensive web-connected microcontroller that translates commands from the web interface to signals that blow the horn, blink the lights, and control the speed of model train engines.

“Ennis’s project is a wonderful demonstration of the type of creativity and commitment that the prize was established to celebrate. That Ennis was able to start with basic, but limited, knowledge and use it to produce a project that literally connects Ennis’ basement with the whole world is a testament to the unbounded potential for young people to create surprisingly powerful systems using modern software tools,” said Lee Buck, a founder of the Pioneer Prize, in a press release. Apart from a $19 microcontroller that he adapted for his project, the software tools and resources that Marshall used were available free to anyone with an internet connection.

Runner-up Claybaugh, from Brooklin, envisioned an iPhone app that allows users to capture and store recordings at specific locations. Connecting sound and place, it gives users another way to share their world and experiences beyond mere photos, which currently dominate the social-media sphere.

When asked what advice he might give to students considering competing for the Pioneer Prize next year, Marshall said, “I would tell them to go for it. I had been programming for less than a year. Never let your prior knowledge deter you.”

Information regarding next year’s Pioneer Prize will be announced in the fall. To learn more, visit or email />