Gaining valuable research experience, three UH Hilo students study biostatistics at University of Iowa College of Public Health

“On top of the intense amount of knowledge I gained, this program gave me many opportunities to network with faculty, grad students, and peers alike which I am extremely grateful for,” says marine science major Carson Green.

By Leah Sherwood.

Three students from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo participated in a prestigious program in biostatistics and applied research at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. Math majors Sarah Loving and Lino Yoshikawa, and marine science major Carson Green, were chosen for the program that admitted 24 students from a national pool of applicants. The seven-week program, held at the Iowa Summer Institute in Biostatistics, provides case-based instruction of real biomedical research, computer laboratory training, research projects, and clinical research activities to undergraduates.

All three UH Hilo students are outstanding in their academic work. Loving and Yoshikawa are UH Regent Scholars and recipients of the 2019 Pearson Outstanding Mathematics Underclassman award, a distinction honoring their early achievements in mathematics. Green secured his spot by impressing his calculus professor Robert Pelayo, who introduced the budding scientist to Gideon Zamba, the director of the institute, when Zamba visited the UH Hilo campus during the spring 2019 semester; Green credits that discussion for his being selected to participate in the program. “It was a tremendous honor to secure a spot in such an amazing internship program,” Green says.

At the University of Iowa program, each of the UH Hilo students worked collaboratively with teams of others in the program.

Loving was on a team that focused on statistical analysis of violence and hot weather in three U.S. states, culminating in a presentation titled, “Too Hot to Handle? An Assessment of the Relationship Between Heat Waves and Criminal Activity.” The team’s results surprised everybody. “We had originally thought that the heat waves would increase crime, but in fact we found a slight decline in crime,” says Loving, who is from the island of Hawai‘i .

“This was my first research experience,” she says. “Just trying to get the data for my project was valuable because I had never compiled data from different sources as I did in this program.”

Large glass-faced building.
University of Iowa College of Public Health. Photo credit: UI.

Yoshikawa, who is from Maui, investigated probable environmental factors of a congenital birth defect called hypertrophic pyloric stenosis, which interferes with the passage of stomach contents into the small intestine due to thickening (hypertrophy) of the muscles between the stomach and the intestines. Her team’s presentation was titled, “Spatio-Temporal Risk for Infantile Hypertrophic Pyloric Stenosis Among a Cohort of Iowa Births.”

Green, whose original hometown is Cape Girardeau, Missouri, participated in a team that investigated connections between youth violence, mental health, and state policy, titled, “Terraforming the Teenage Wasteland: Youth Violence, Mental Health, and State Policy.” He says it was an excellent opportunity to strengthen his statistical knowledge and gather information about what he might do if he pursues a career in biostatistics.

“I also learned about classes I can take in undergrad so that I may be able to apply for graduate schools in biostatistics whilst still finishing my marine science major,” he says. “On top of the intense amount of knowledge I gained, this program gave me many opportunities to network with faculty, grad students, and peers alike which I am extremely grateful for.”

Loving and Yoshikawa will present their results at the 2019 SACNAS—The National Diversity in STEM Conference organized by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans (SACNAS) to be held Oct. 31 to Nov. 02, 2019, at the Hawai‘i Convention Center in Honolulu.

On the path to a STEM career

Yoshikawa attributes her success to her teachers and their patient explanations of mathematical concepts. “I had good math teachers growing up,” she says. “I tutor at Kilohana [UH Hilo Academic Success Center] and I see how people struggle with math. I feel like I always had a connection with my math teachers who always took the time to explain it another way that I could understand. I think this gave me a good foundation so that I could start enjoying it more. If I explain my thought process to struggling students they understand it better than when a teacher writes on a board.”

Brian Wissman
Brian Wissman

Brian Wissman, associate professor of mathematics at UH Hilo, says he is proud of what these UH Hilo students have accomplished. “They are the next generation of scientists and mathematicians,” he says. “Math is a difficult subject because it takes some time before you get to a level where you can start doing these types of problems because they are quite involved. For them to be doing it so early in their career is actually very inspiring. I wish I was that accomplished when I was that age, and that motivated.”

Wissman adds that participation in programs like the Iowa program are important for students’ career development. “Since we are here in the middle of the Pacific, having those networking opportunities to discuss mathematics and to see mathematics outside of Hawai‘i is really important,” he says. “And increasingly, especially in the sciences, graduate programs want their students to have some sort of research experience before they are accepted.”


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.