Skip to content →

Tag: Research

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Oct. 2020: The mana‘o and expertise of UH Hilo faculty enrich our island home

For faculty at UH Hilo, this island is not just a place to work, but also their home, which brings with it the responsibility of making a positive contribution to our natural and cultural environments.

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

I have written in previous columns about the primary mission at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo to educate our students and graduate responsible citizens, lifelong learners, and productive employees. I’ve also recognized that our university ‘ohana contributes greatly to the civic and social fabric of our community, with many students, faculty and staff lending their mana‘o and expertise to any number of issues including public health, K-12 education, economic stability, natural disasters, climate change, environmental conservation, sustainable agriculture and more.

This month I would like to share some of the fantastic work of our faculty in community engagement, leading locally based projects of benefit to the people, culture, and island, and conducting research of importance to the community and environment.

Let me give you a few examples of the work.

Natural Sciences

Research on hybrid forest ecosystems conducted by Professor of Biology Becky Ostertag and colleagues at the county and federal levels is directly behind the creation of a forest restoration bill recently signed into law by the mayor. Bill 178 is an amendment to the current Hawaiʻi County Property Tax Code that creates two additional native forest dedications including a functional forest and a successional forest land-use dedication. The changes will allow private landowners to receive reduced property tax rates for native forest restoration on Hawaiʻi Island, and promote the islandwide engagement of preserving native forests.

In another project, a long-term study by UH Hilo scientists shows Hawai‘i Island forests can regenerate once cattle and pigs are fenced out. Twenty-five years ago, UH Hilo biologist Patrick Hart tagged 7,000 trees in a declining Hawai‘i Island rainforest. The recent discovery of new and thriving growth of keiki ʻōhiʻa and koa in the studied area is good news about the forests’ native trees and the threatened bird species for whom the trees provide habitat. Working with Professor Hart on the project is Thomas Ibanez who is a post-doctoral fellow from UH Hilo’s biology department, and Shea Uehana and Joshua Pang-Ching, recent alumni of UH Hilo’s graduate program in tropical conservation biology and environmental science.

In other work, faculty and their students in the ʻIke Wai Research Experience in Data Science Program studied coral health and disease through digital images and investigated the pros and cons of using new technologies versus conventional techniques. John Burns, assistant professor of marine science, whose lab was used for the analysis, says the work is a good example of advancing science in an interdisciplinary manner capturing one of the main goals of the UH Hilo Data Science program to bring together faculty and students from multiple disciplines to conduct applied research of benefit to the region.

Data Science

A half-million-dollar award from the National Science Foundation to computer scientist Travis Mandel is having a major impact on research and educational activity on Hawai‘i Island meant to grow UH Hilo’s expertise and curriculum in the field of data science. The funding is going toward investigating new artificial intelligence techniques that involve humans “in the loop” to address problems of great local importance. The project is driving increased interest in science and technology among community members and local undergraduate students. This past summer, six students participated in an innovative research program under Travis’s tutelage where they worked on developing artificial intelligence systems to better support scientists in fields such as psychology, ecology, and marine science.

Language and Culture Revitalization

This year, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, when American women won the right to vote, the USA TODAY Network named Kauanoe Kamanā one of 10 women from our state as a “Women of the Century.” Ten women in each state were named. The network noted that Kauanoe is an icon in Hawaiian language reclamation and revitalization, renowned for her deep commitment to her native language. She is a founding member and president of the Aha Pūnana Leo, the nonprofit, family-based organization committed to promoting Hawaiian language revitalization.

Making a tremendous impact on the revitalization of the Hawaiian language, Kauanoe is one of the early faculty of Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language at UH Hilo, the only Indigenous language college in the U.S. She also serves as director of Ke Kula ʻO Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu, the internationally renowned preschool-12 Hawaiian-medium laboratory school. She was the first person of Native Hawaiian ancestry to receive a doctor of philosophy in Hawaiian and indigenous language and culture revitalization from UH Hilo.

These are but a few examples of the tremendous impact our faculty are having on the community, culture, and environment. For faculty at UH Hilo, this island is not just a place to work, but also their home, which brings with it the responsibility of making a positive contribution to our natural and cultural environments. While covid is taking up almost all focus in our lives, you can bet these scholars are pushing forward in their areas of expertise, gaining and sharing knowledge that will enrich us, the environment, and the very fabric of our multi-cultured community.

I mua!

Bonnie D. Irwin

Comments closed

UH Hilo 2018-2019 Annual Report

Our successes are largely due to our talented faculty, staff and students who make UH Hilo a remarkable place of knowledge and learning.

Aloha UH Hilo ‘Ohana,

Marcia Sakai
Marcia Sakai

When I began my tenure as the Interim Chancellor for UH Hilo, one of my goals was to create a comprehensive report that highlights the accomplishments of our campus. I am pleased to share with you the UH Hilo 2018-2019 Annual Report.

Our successes are largely due to our talented faculty, staff and students who make UH Hilo a remarkable place of knowledge and learning.

Best wishes to all of you.

Marcia Sakai
Interim Chancellor

 

See also: UH Hilo 2017-2018 Annual Report

Comments closed

Interim Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Nov. 2018: One learns from many sources

With today’s technology, the guidance of expert mentors, and a deep desire to make new discoveries, UH Hilo students are learning from many sources and contributing to their selected fields, their communities, and the world.

By Marcia Sakai.

Marcia Sakai
Marcia Sakai

The Mission Statement of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo begins with the adage, ‘A‘ohe pau ka ‘ike i ka hālau ho‘okahi (One learns from many sources). One unique aspect of UH Hilo is that we offer both undergraduate and graduate students many opportunities to do research in a variety of fields. Our students are doing important work, collecting and analyzing new data, publishing findings alongside their mentors, graduating with a packed résumé and a degree, fully prepared to join the workforce or continue to a terminal degree.

I would like to share with you some research projects where our students are learning by doing the work, making the discoveries, and enriching the world with new knowledge.

‘Āina (Land)

UH Hilo professors, scientists and students provided valuable expertise and resources on multiple fronts during the recent lava flow in Puna, helping government officials assess hazards to the public.

A team of undergraduate and graduate students led by Associate Professor of Geography Ryan Perroy piloted drones day and night capturing imagery of the lava flows, critical information for the government agencies overseeing eruption response.

UH Hilo volcanologist Cheryl Gansecki, assisted by undergraduate students, provided real-time chemistry analysis of lava samples. The information helped government scientists determine how the lava would behave and how fast it moved, critical information for response plans.

Lani (Sky)

Kyle Steckler
Kyle Steckler

While completing a summer internship at the University of Michigan, UH Hilo astronomy student Kyle Steckler developed an algorithm to discover minor planets that orbit the sun beyond Neptune. The algorithm did not fully work all summer and he was not discovering anything new. But about three hours before he gave his final presentation at the symposium in Ann Arbor, he was running his software and it suddenly popped up something new—Kyle had discovered a new object in our solar system!

Kyle’s internship was funded through the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, a highly competitive program funded by the National Science Foundation that supports active research done by undergraduates. He will graduate with this amazing accomplishment already on his résumé, a solid foundation for making future discoveries.

Chantelle Kiessner
Chantelle Kiessner

Another astronomy student, Chantelle Kiessner, is doing solar investigations, having been awarded three internships over the course of the past two years. She started in 2016 as a Hawai‘i Space Grant Consortium trainee and then, building on the skills learned as a trainee, she was selected for the Akamai Internship Program in the summer of 2017. As an Akamai Scholar she was placed at the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on Maui to work on quantifying data on the new Adaptive Optics system where she looked for ways to correct the errors introduced by Earth’s atmosphere.

Chantelle then conducted research over the past summer as an intern in the REU program. She studied at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, a research facility at the University of Colorado, Boulder. While there, she worked at the National Solar Observatory analyzing spectral data from the solar chromosphere, the reddish outer layer of the sun.

These two students are already earning their research chops as undergraduates and I can only imagine the great work they will do in their future careers.

Kai (Ocean)

Sabena Siddiqui
Sabena Siddiqui

Sabena Siddiqui, a graduate student in tropical conservation biology and environmental science, is researching the sounds of humpback whales when they are not singing, an aspect of their communication that is clearly important but little studied. Sabena’s investigations focus on spectral analysis of the social sounds of the humpback whale population that breeds in Hawaiʻi.

Sabena secured funding to attend UH Hilo through the NSF Centers for Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST) with partial funding through the Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems bioacoustics lab at UH Hilo.

In addition to her graduate studies, for the past seven years Sabena has served as the student chair of the American Cetacean Society, the world’s oldest whale conservation organization. Her role is to be a mentor and guide to student leaders of other groups on campus.

 ‘A‘ohe pau ka ‘ike i ka hālau ho‘okahi

Armed with today’s technology, the guidance of expert mentors, and a deep desire to make new discoveries, these students are learning from many sources and already contributing to their selected fields, their communities, and the world. In a future column I will share with you the work of several programs that support our students in exploring and investigating our island and beyond.

Aloha and mahalo.

Marcia Sakai

Comments closed

UH Hilo Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai meets with local press

Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai hosted a Coffee Hour with the local press today on the campus of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. Interim Chancellor Sakai shared the following information in her PowerPoint.

The Flow

Large group of students and staff in orange safety vests, some hollding drones and other equipment.
UH HILO DRONE TEAM. UH Hilo had a vital role in response to the recent historic lava eruption on Hawaiʻi Island. In the photo above, students and staff, four holding drones used in aerial surveys, in the field at recent lava flow in Puna. The team piloted drones day and night to capture thermo data and imagery of lava flows, information critical to government agencies overseeing eruption response. They also analyzed threat to Puna Geothermal. Other teams of scientists analyzed chemistry of lava samples at labs on campus. Courtesy photo, click to enlarge.

UH Hilo Most Diverse Four-Year University in the Nation

Large group of students looking up to camera.
Freshman class during Orientation in August 2018. Courtesy photo, click to enlarge.

UH Hilo was recently ranked the Most Diverse 4-Year University in the Nation by the Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac 2018.

The Chronicle’s ranking of the top 10 most diverse public four-year universities and their corresponding diversity indexes:

  1. UH Hilo, 88.9
  2. Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology at Okmulgee, 87.1
  3. UH Maui College, 86.5
  4. UH West Oʻahu, 84.5
  5. Highline College, 81.9
  6. UH Mānoa, 81.6
  7. California State University, East Bay, 79.3
  8. Rutgers University-Newark, 78.9
  9. New Jersey Institute of Technology, 78.5
  10. Seattle Central College, 78.0
Comments closed

Interim Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Nov. 2017: New data science program leading the way to a sustainable future

The program is part of a statewide project funded by the National Science Foundation, which awarded the UH System $20 million last year to do a five-year study of water sustainability issues throughout the state.

By Marcia Sakai.

Marcia Sakai
Marcia Sakai

I am pleased to share an update on the exciting new data science degree program at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. The program is multidisciplinary in scope with elements of geophysics, microbiology, cyberinfrastructure, data modeling, indigenous knowledge, and economic forecasting. Students will learn how big data sets, from seemingly unrelated areas, can be used to solve complex problems.

Data science is a field that can have great impact on our local communities and environment. The collection and analysis of big data in areas such as water resources, for example, can reveal patterns and trends that can alert decision makers such as lawmakers and policymakers about the directions needed to ensure future stability for our island and state. This is especially important in relation to human behavior—for example, analyzing statewide water resources can reveal things our communities can do better to use and conserve water more efficiently.

‘Ike Wai

The UH Hilo data science program is part of a statewide project funded by the National Science Foundation, which awarded the UH System $20 million last year to do a five-year study of water sustainability issues throughout the state. The project is called ʻIke Wai (Knowledge, Water) and has the overall goal of gathering new data on groundwater flow, sustainable yield, and economic impact. The data will help communities and state decision makers preserve Hawaiʻi’s water resources for the future.

Travis Mandel

Four tenure-track professors will lead the UH Hilo program. The first two were hired over the summer: Travis Mandel, assistant professor of computer science and Grady Weyenberg (who grew up in Hilo), assistant professor of mathematics and statistician. They will be joined in the near future by the others in the natural and social sciences.

While developing the UH Hilo data science program, our faculty team will work with ‘Ike Wai data scientists and water researchers around the state, collaborating alongside local communities, indigenous peoples, government agencies and businesses to generate the scientific data. Partners also include undergraduate students, graduate students, postdocs and junior faculty to address water challenges at the academic and policy level.

‘Ike Wai student scholars

Grady Weyenberg
Grady Weyenberg

As part of our program, a cohort of ‘Ike Wai student scholars will be chosen each year to do research and analyze the data collected (this year’s scholars are currently being chosen). The scholars will work with six faculty across natural science fields on research projects including investigation of local flora and fauna, genetics, and improving educational software. This is an invaluable training ground for our students, and when they graduate, they will have the background and skills needed to start professional careers in related fields. This is of immense benefit to our local communities and state.

Developing curriculum

Since Travis and Grady’s arrival, they have been hard at work on the process of getting approval for a certificate program in data science, which will be followed by a baccalaureate degree.

Meanwhile, proposals have been submitted to launch four new courses: three in computer science and one in math, which will form the core curriculum. Two of these courses will focus on computer programming and language, statistical techniques, and data plotting.

Grady is primarily involved in the development of the math course with focus on computing language and statistics, which will be attractive not only to students who are earning a data science certificate, but also to anyone in a natural science program (or even beyond) who needs an introduction to applied data analysis techniques. Target date to launch the new course is fall of 2018.

Travis is the new data science hire in computer science. He is also working on the design of the certificate and its courses, proposing a new course on cutting-edge machine learning techniques that will take students to the “next level” of data analysis. His research interests lie in the realm of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Specifically, he is interested in how we can use data to automatically improve human-focused systems.

While the university is developing curriculum, we also need to ensure that students are getting a good background in specialized techniques that will be useful for local industries, such as renewable energy and agriculture. It will be this practical application that will make the biggest impact on our local communities and economy.

Outreach

Faculty have recently begun reaching out to local schools and businesses, with the intent to ensure that a smooth transition can be created from secondary education to the university and through the data science program to the workplace. It will be wonderful to see high school students exposed to some of the interesting problems that can be addressed with data science before they get to the college level.

The development of the data science initiative makes us very proud of our campus—we are educating our students to be the problem solvers of our state’s future while helping to protect and conserve the islands’ precious natural resources.

Visit the EPSCoR website to learn more about the data science program and the ‘Ike Wai project.

See also: UH Hilo developing new data science program (UH Hilo Stories, Oct. 31, 2017).

Aloha,

Marcia Sakai

Comments closed