Maunakea Scholars program to provide more Hawai‘i students with telescope time

Increased school participation, additional telescope involvement, and new partners create more opportunities for aspiring astronomers to explore the stars and beyond.

At left is Peter Forshay, at right is student Whitney Aragaki, both seated in front of a bank of computers, talking to each other.
Peter Forshay, remote observer from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, talks with Waiakea High School math and science teacher Whitney Aragaki. Courtesy photo.

The Maunakea Scholars program will expand this year with more schools participating, more observatories committing to the initiative, and new partners expanding opportunities for Hawai‘i’s youth to witness the wonders of the stars. Students from five Hawai‘i high schools—up from the two schools in 2015’s inaugural cohort—will now have a chance to use the world’s most powerful telescopes for their original research from observing black holes to viewing Earth’s neighboring galaxies.

Designed to bring students into the observatory community and help aspiring astronomers envision a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, Maunakea Scholars is the first program of its kind internationally to allocate observing time at major observatories for the direct educational advancement of students.

Initiated by Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope and Gemini Observatory, and in partnership with the Maunakea Observatories and the Hawai‘i State Department of Education, the Maunakea Scholars program launched in 2015.

“We received an incredible response to the Maunakea Scholars in its inaugural year and we couldn’t be more pleased to grow the program, adding more schools, observatories and organizations to further this initiative,” says Mary Beth Laychak, outreach program manager at the Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope. “It’s inspiring to see the students light up with curiosity and realize the potential they have to achieve amazing discoveries that could impact the future of astronomy.”

Laycheck speaks about the program:

2016 cohort

Locally, students from Waiakea High School and Honoka‘a High School on Hawai‘i Island will be participating in the program this year. Kapolei High School, Kalani High School, and Nanakuli High School on O‘ahu are also part of this year’s cohort.

In addition to Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope and Gemini Observatory, also participating in the project are James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (operated by East Asian Observatory), and the Subaru Telescope on Maunakea. The University of Hawai‘i’s ROBO-AO on Kitt Peak in Arizona will also connect with Hawai‘i’s high school students.

“Thinking about my experience as a Maunakea Scholar is something I cherish deeply as my most dedicated project I have ever participated in,” says Emily Little, Kapolei student and 2015 program alumna. “This opportunity to study and work with astronomers from the Institute for Astronomy and [Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope] allowed me to imagine myself in their shoes one day.”

Ten scientists, including graduate students from the UH Institute for Astronomy and staff from the Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope, will be matched with students as mentors to help guide them through the exciting potential of their research. The culmination of the program will allow the students and their teachers to visit the telescopes on the summit of Maunakea, followed by a night of real-time observation in the remote control room at the observatories’ base facilities.

Collaboration with UH Hilo

As an integral part of the local community, the Maunakea Observatories work closely with UH Hilo and the university’s ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i to advance and strengthen knowledge in STEM related fields that can contribute to a sustainable future. The new partnership between the organizations helps ʻImiloa bring a mobile outreach curriculum called MANU (Modern and Ancient ways of Navigating our Universe) to the five participating schools, as well as other schools on Hawaiʻi Island.

Inspired by Hawaiian tradition and the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage, the MANU program offers an interactive curriculum designed for children to explore traditional wayfinding, a skill using only natural signs including the stars.

‘Imiloa’s participation is supported by the Japan Foundation for the Promotion of Astronomy, an affiliate of the Subaru Observatory.


-Media release

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