The UH Hilo Keaholoa STEM Scholars Program is part of a federal program designed to increase the number of Native Hawaiians and other minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Students in the program engage in scientifically rigorous research that is grounded in indigenous or native cultural practices and knowledge.
The newest cohort of students in a federally-supported program designed to increase the number of Native Hawaiians and other minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) was welcomed to the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo at a reception on Oct. 4. Honoring a new and inspiring paradigm in learning, students in the Keaholoa STEM Scholars Program engage in scientifically rigorous research that is grounded in indigenous or native cultural practices and knowledge.
Founders of the program along with current and past faculty mentors and the program’s upperclassmen and alumni hosted the event to celebrate and inspire the new undergraduates, who come from across the Pacific region.
Established at UH Hilo in 2002, the Keaholoa program was initiated by Professor Emerita Sonia Juvik, retired professor of geography, and Professor of Biology Rebecca Ostertag. “Without Becky’s help the grant proposal would not have been sent off to the NSF,” says Juvik. “We called the grant ‘Hawaiian values in the sciences: Advancing a new paradigm for STEM education.’ The new paradigm is the knowledge that Western formal academia has not acknowledged. It may not be the same science as the people in the textbook and journals, but isn’t there a science about managing the lo‘i [taro terraces]?”
Juvik says the Keaholoa program represents the power of ‘yes.’ “Keaholoa exists because someone said ‘yes’ and because students before you said ‘yes,’” says Juvik. “Yes to opportunity, yes to putting your energy and efforts to getting something in place. We have students who are in positions of leadership in the sciences. You are underrepresented in these professions but once you get qualified you have wonderful opportunities to become employed in these fields and assume leadership positions.”
Chancellor Bonnie Irwin also attended the reception. She thanked the students for choosing UH Hilo, and while celebrating their accomplishments and hard work thus far, says she looks forward to hearing about their future successes. “The community you have with each other is going to be really important. The sciences are always a challenging discipline, but you are well prepared and you have a great team behind you with our LSAMP program, Keaholoa program, and the faculty across this campus.”
LSAMP: Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation
LSAMP (commonly pronounced L-SAMP) is the acronym for Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation, an alliance-based National Science Foundation (NSF) program of which UH Hilo is a participant. The Keaholoa STEM Scholars Program is supported by the Islands of Opportunity Alliance (IOA) LSAMP program, a group headed by UH Hilo that includes 10 other partner institutions from American Sāmoa, Guam, Hawai‘i, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The alliance works together to increase the number of underrepresented minority students graduating with two- and four-year degrees in STEM disciplines.
- Read about the 2019 conference of the IOA-LSAMP group held in January at UH Hilo: UH Hilo hosts alliance of scholars, educators from Hawai‘i and 10 Pacific Island nations to discuss strengthening the pipeline into STEM careers (UH Hilo Stories, January 23, 2019).
At the 2019 annual conference, the Islands of Opportunity Alliance (IOA), which is led by the Office of the Chancellor at UH Hilo, kicked off their 2019 STEM mentorship programs, which are funded by $600,000 of a continuing $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Topics at the conference included inter-campus programs, curriculum enhancements, student learning communities, peer tutoring, enrichment through research experiences, the promotion of STEM graduate degrees and employment, institutional support, and sustainability plans, among other discussions and presentations.
Advancing a new paradigm for STEM education
Joseph Genz, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the UH Hilo Islands of Opportunity program, says the reception for the new Keaholoa students was meant as an introduction. “Tonight is for the students to meet some of the faculty and staff who are here to support you in different ways. One way we are supporting you is with our large alliance and network of people.”
The incoming students will work on two research projects as a community. “One of these projects will be sustainably cultivating ‘awa on the UH Hilo campus,” says Dana-Lynn Ko‘omoa-Lange, an associate professor of pharmacology and the Keaholoa program coordinator. “It takes four years to get to the point to where the crop can be harvested. They are going to learn how to propagate and process it to make the ‘awa drink and they are going to learn the ‘awa ceremony. The idea is to have it sustainable so every year we can harvest it and keep the process going.”
The program’s senior scholars also shared their experiences. Kainalu Steward, a fourth-year student, says he is thankful to all those who came before him, and for the opportunities the program has brought him. “Through Keaholoa I have been able to do research at fishponds on Hawai‘i Island and I have mentorship from my mentor and from the faculty on campus,” says Steward.
Also on hand was Drew Kapp, instructor of geography at Hawai‘i Community College, who was the internship coordinator for the program in its initial incarnation in the early 2000s. “I think we had a positive effect on faculty by encouraging faculty to conduct research that supported our student community and communities on this island. Through cultural development workshops we succeeded in a lot of ways in demonstrating the value of local and Hawaiian culture in the program.”
“You are the tip of the spear,” says Mārata Tamaira, the project manager for IOA-LSAMP. “When I see each one of you, I see the faces of your ancestors and the faces of your communities, wherever you come from.” Tamaira, who has taught in the past at UH Mānoa and University of California, Santa Cruz, has taken on an expanded role this semester as a learning facilitator in the Research Foundations and Ethics (IS 480) course.
The Hawaiian word keaholoa
The Hawaiian word keaholoa refers to “a long fishing line,” a metaphor for the academic tools the mentor-teachers provide the STEM students in the program. The name is inspired by the Hawaiian proverb that states,” a fisherman of the shallow sea uses a short line, while a fisherman of the deep sea has a long line.” The underlying meaning is that deep knowledge is more desirable than shallow knowledge.
Story by Leah Sherwood, a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at UH Hilo. She received her bachelor of science in biology and bachelor of arts in English from Boise State University.
Photos by Raiatea Arcuri, a professional photographer majoring in business administration with a concentration in finance at UH Hilo.