Students present applied learning and research to peers and faculty

UH Hilo 2015 Applied Learning Summit: Students take pride in presenting what they’ve accomplished.

By Kara Nelson.

Tom DeWitt (center) with two students at the sign-in table for the 2015 Applied Learning Summit. Banner reads: ALEX Office of Applied Learning. With the red University of Hawaii seal.
Tom DeWitt (center), director of the UH Hilo Office of Applied Learning, with two students at the sign-in table for the 2015 Applied Learning Summit. Photo by Jaysen Niedermeyer. 

On April 24, the Office of Applied Learning Experiences (ALEX) at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo hosted the Spring 2015 Applied Learning Summit, where 14 students presented summaries of their applied-learning or academic research to peers and faculty. Including community based projects, internships, and research, the annual summit features presentations delivered by students from multiple disciplines, including anthropology, astronomy, biology, business administration, English, marine science, pharmacy, and physics. The event is free and open to the UH community and the general public.

This event began in February 2013. Formerly called the Student Research Conference, the Applied Learning Summit now includes applied learning activities like internships or community-based projects, instead of solely focusing on academic research, explains Tom DeWitt, associate professor of marketing and the director of ALEX. Student participation averages from 15 to 45 students per semester.

DeWitt explains that the event is beneficial on many levels. “In every student presentation that I’ve attended over the years, there’s a great deal of pride that students have in what they’ve accomplished and it’s important for us to provide them with a venue to do so in front of fellow students, faculty, and family,” he says.

“Secondly, it’s important for us as a university to acknowledge the contributions of both students and faculty who participate in the applied learning process.” DeWitt also notes that many students use the summit to practice presentations for other academic conferences.

Kirsten Møllegaard
Kirsten Møllegaard

Kirsten Møllegaard, chair and associate professor of English, always encourages her students to participate in the ALEX Learning Summit.

“Two major obstacles prevent UH Hilo undergraduates from participating in academic conferences: cost of travel and lack of funding,” Møllegaard says. “We are very fortunate to now have the Applied Learning Summit at UH Hilo every spring thanks to the tireless efforts of ALEX director Dr. Thomas DeWitt. The summit is structured like a regular academic conference with a call for papers, abstract submission, acceptance (or) rejection process, registration, and presentations.

“I strongly encourage students to participate,” she says. “Not only is this a cost-effective way of attending an academic conference, it also fosters important skills like public speaking and debate in a professional setting. It is a meaningful way to practice academic discourse, and a great way to boost one’s CV with a prestigious accomplishment.

“For students who are reluctant to submit papers, my advice is to attend a summit as members of the audience. See how it is done, and then next year, go for it. Most professors are thrilled to coach students for such an event, and I am no exception.”

Students were each allotted a half-hour to present and then answer questions from the audience. What follows is a brief summary of a few presentations.

Natural disasters

Marina Kelly
Marina Kelly. Photo by Kara Nelson.

Anthropology major Marina Kelley presented “Coping, Resilience, and Community Involvement: The effects of Hurricane Iselle, and the lava flow threat on individuals, businesses, and employees in Pāhoa, Hawai‘i, ” an anthropological-based qualitative research project exploring how Hurricane Iselle and the current lava flow have affected individuals, businesses, and employees.

Regarding the impact on businesses, Kelley discovered some lost business because of people moving away, while some gained business because of the increased tourism. Employees had to be relocated elsewhere, and then were later brought back. Finally, businesses were worried about their supplies being cut off.

Racial tension

Three students at the podium with an audience listening.
Students (l-r) Conny Livai, Mylast Bilimon, and Attok Nashon present an anthropological research study on racial tensions in Hilo. Photo by Jaysen Niedermeyer. 

Students Mylast Bilimon, Conny Livai, and Attok Nashon also presented an anthropological research study, this one to explore “Marshallese Voices on Ethnic Tensions in Hilo.” Yoshita Mares, a recent graduate, also worked on the project but did not attend the presentation.

After highlighting a school fight, a racist radio joke, and a heated social network picture, the students looked at news stories and academic research. The students decided to hear the voices of Marshallese living in Hilo regarding tensions between locals and Marshallese people. “We felt it was better to start small than big,” states Livai.

The students had to tailor their research design and method to meet the needs of Marshallese culture, so they used Talanoa, which literally means “talk stories,” and they used the method Bwebwenato, an ethnographic interview with attention to Marshallese culture.

The student researchers interviewed ten students and three community members in the Marshallese language. They explored the expectations of coming to Hawai‘i, fitting into local culture, the various responses to conflict, changes over time, and how Marshallese have made Hilo a home away from home. Some of these themes revealed an awareness of ethnic tensions, particularly in Honolulu.

Campus dining

Mikyla Wood presented, “Sodexo—Off-Campus Students Marketing Audit.” Her objective was to find out what percentage of students go to Sodexo, what off-campus students want to eat, Sodexo’s competitors, and what students can afford. She collecting data through a Google survey, a focus group, and interviews. This allowed her to make a market summary of off-campus students and to summarize the market needs, market trends, and competition from outside food sources.

After looking at Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats — a SWOT analysis — Wood’s recommendations for Sodexo was brand position, product offerings, extended hours, extended cashier booths, unbundling meals, and online ordering.

Shantel Geringer at podium, points to her powerpoint slide.
Shantel Geringer presents her research at the 2015 Applied Learning Summit. Photo by Kara Nelson.

Similar to Wood, Shantel Geringer presented “Sodexo—On-Campus Students Audit.” She highlighted the high usage rate of on-campus students and their attitudes, the ways students heard of Sodexo, and whether or not student needs were being met. She found that the locations of Sodexo were convenient to off-campus students, but are considered inconvenient to on-campus students, particularly those in the new dorms.

In her SWOT analysis, Geringer found that Sodexo’s strengths are its six different locations, its friendly staff, it’s “To Go Box” and “Grab and Go” offerings, and its social media pages. Her recommendations for improvement concerned product offerings, awareness and brand images.

Student transportation

Student Pelenatete Lelua presented, “UH Hilo Housing Research to Provide for Student Transport Needs.” One of the top issues on-campus students face is transportation, and Lelua discovered the most popular options used were the Hele-on bus and a private taxi, with other options being the Shared Ride Program, a car rental, or rides from family and friends. Lelua highlighted the pros and cons of the Hele-on Bus and private taxi systems, and summarized that the students need service that is fast, easy to use, reliable, and affordable.

Lelua’s final recommendations included better communication of available options to students, such as increased awareness of the Shared Taxi Ride and for Student Housing to offer a weekend transport service.

“I wanted to share my research for something that could help the school and help the students,” says Lelua. As a student who lives on-campus, she says, “I feel that this is a subject that should be addressed, especially by Student Housing, so it’s actually to get the message out there and also to help the university to help students.”

Other presentations:

  • Michael K. Abraham: “Analyzing and Implementing Strategic Efforts to Increase Enrollment.”
  • Debra Cannoles: “UH Hilo College of Business and Economics: Brand Image and Equity” and “Creating the UH Hilo Mentorship Program.”
  • Scott Hardman: “Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Center Internship: Fish Cage   Assembly and Facility Maintenance.”
  • Zachary Higgins: “Riding the Radio Waves with MOP Talk.”
  • Maria Paredes: “Sodexo on Campus.”
  • Janell Penha: “What Impact can Pharmacy Students Have on Rural Hospitals?”
  • Krystal Schlechter: “High-Density Electric Potential Plots.”
  • The author of this story presented, “Searching for Moral Lessons in Rapunzel.”


About the author of this story: Kara Nelson is a senior at UH Hilo double majoring in English and communication. She is an intern in the Office of the Chancellor and writer for UH Hilo Stories.