Hawai‘i and Pacific region students present their research at virtual STEM conference

With the challenge of a global pandemic, the student conference originally scheduled to take place in Hilo was transitioned into a virtual, curated event. Student presentations are now available for viewing online.

By Susan Enright

Sheldon Rosa on the water with boat and waterfront homes in the background.
This is student Sheldon Rosa, who is studying marine science and Hawaiian studies at UH Hilo. Rosa’s virtual presentation at the 2020 Islands of Opportunity Alliance student conference was on his work developing an educational toolkit through the Ocean Acidification Program.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo hosted a virtual symposium this week for students from Hawai‘i and the Pacific region to present their scientific research and projects.

The symposium was hosted through the Islands of Opportunity Alliance (IOA), a federally funded network of higher education institutions from Hawai‘i and 10 other alliance partners located throughout the U.S.-affiliated Pacific with a mission to expand access to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields for underrepresented populations. UH Hilo serves as the administrative hub of the group, which includes 10 other partner institutions in American Sāmoa, Guam, Hawai‘i, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and the Northern Marianas Islands.

Each year, the group gathers to hold a student conference. But this year, with the global spread of COVID-19 having a profound impact on the alliance and peers, the conference was presented virtually.

UH community colleges located on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, and Maui co-hosted the event through a federal program also meant to boost minority students in STEM, specifically to prepare them for transferring into four-year degree programs.

“Most if not all of our IOA institutions have been forced to migrate courses to online platforms and many of our program activities have been reduced if not suspended altogether until normal operations can resume,” writes Mārata Tamaira, program manager for IOA-LSAMP and convener of the conference. “These have indeed been uncertain and challenging times.”

She adds, “But challenges give rise to innovative solutions. Although the student conference was originally scheduled to take place in Hilo, Hawaiʻi, on August 6-7, 2020, in an effort to ensure the maximum safety of our participants and attendees, we have chosen not to meet face-to-face but to instead harness the benefits of technology to bring the conference to you in virtual, curated format.”

Collaboration and support

The conference was supported through a collaboration of the Islands of Opportunity Alliance plus partners located at Oʻahu, Kaua‘i, and Maui community college campuses.

Since its inception in 2006, the Islands of Opportunity Alliance has developed as a network of higher education institutions in the Pacific region within the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program. LSAMP was launched by the National Science Foundation in 1991 with a mission to assist universities and colleges in diversifying the nation’s STEM workforce by increasing the number of STEM baccalaureate and graduate degrees awarded to populations historically underrepresented in these disciplines: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Native Pacific Islanders. The program is particularly aimed at encouraging students from two-year programs to continue their education at four-year institutions.

Additionally, in 2017, UH received $1.4 million through the Bridge to the Baccalaureate Alliance: Strategic Transfer Alliance for Minority Participation (B2B-STAMP) program to help minority students studying STEM at UH’s seven community colleges to accelerate their transition to four year degree programs.

Keynote and presentations

Anthony Jay Sunga, associate professor at Guam Community College, was the keynote speaker. Notes Tamaira about Sunga, “His words of enthusiasm and encouragement to current and future STEM students illustrate his deep-rooted commitment as a mentor and guide to the next generation of Pacific scientists. We are honored to count him as a valued colleague and friend in our IOA-LSAMP family.”

She adds, “Our collective hope is that you will find this virtual joint collection of student research and intellectual engagement informative, thought-provoking and, above all, inspiring.”

View keynote and find links to student presentations on the 2020 Student Conference web page.


Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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