Inaugural online DataCamp launches first Pacific-wide STEM learning community

In a collaboration with Chaminade University of Honolulu, UH Hilo supports an online data analytics course with university students from Hawai‘i and 10 other alliance partners located throughout the U.S.-affiliated Pacific.

By Susan Enright

Logo for Islands of Opportunity, graphic of sailing canoe.

An online data analytics course held in November brought together students from Hawai‘i and the Pacific region to work together on projects in real time, launching a network of future indigenous data scientists. Organizers say this broad reach is very encouraging given current pandemic restrictions in educational settings.

The inaugural DataCamp was supported through the Islands of Opportunity Alliance (IOA), a network of higher education institutions from Hawai‘i and 10 other alliance partners located throughout the U.S.-affiliated Pacific. The program, funded by the National Science Foundation, is part of the LSAMP program—the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation—which has a mission to expand access to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields for underrepresented populations.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo serves as the administrative hub of the group, which includes partner campuses in American Samoa, Guam, Hawai‘i, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and the Northern Marianas Islands. The Pacific-based program is geared toward minority students, especially Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. The program is particularly aimed at encouraging students from two-year programs to continue their education at four-year institutions.


Mārata Tamaira
Mārata Tamaira
Joseph Genz
Joseph Genz

Joe Genz, an associate professor of anthropology at UH Hilo who serves as director of the Islands of Opportunity Alliance program, says that for him the most exciting thing about the DataCamp was seeing how students from across the Pacific region felt connected to each other. “Students worked through the same data analytics modules, and connected in real-time, establishing our first alliance-wide STEM learning community.”

Andrea “Mārata” Tamaira, a lecturer of Pacific studies at UH Hilo who serves as project manager for the group, says she is extremely proud of what the DataCamp students achieved in the course.

“The fact is, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, such as the students who participated in the DataCamp, account for some of the most underrepresented groups when it comes to the pursuit of STEM degrees and, correspondingly, the advancement into STEM employment,” says Tamaira. “The inaugural DataCamp marks a noteworthy accomplishment in our efforts to open pathways that promote Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students, the indigenous scientists of tomorrow.”

Chrystie Naeole
Chrystie Naeole
Helen Turner
Helen Turner

DataCamp was run by faculty and staff from alliance member Chaminade University of Honolulu under the leadership of molecular immunologist Helen Turner and biologist Chrystie Naeole.

“Fundamentally, [the program is] about access to well-paying careers, but even more importantly it’s about Hawai‘i-Pacific communities harnessing the power of data to build better futures,” says Turner, Chaminade’s vice president for strategy and innovation.

Naeole, an assistant professor at Chaminade who serves as campus coordinator of the university’s IOA program says that through the program, young Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are building skills in data analytics, tools that are transforming the world. “Our students will be able to solve problems that will make them valuable contributors to their communities [and] further their academic experiences, networks, skills and careers.”

Rylan Chong
Rylan Chong

Data scientist Rylan Chong from Chaminade worked directly with the students.

“All around us, especially in the Pacific, there are problems that need a solution, there are opportunities that need to be realized, and there are innovations that need to be harnessed,” says Chong. “Data analytics can provide pathways to accomplish all of these, but one leader cannot do it alone.”

Chong notes a Native Hawaiian proverb, Pūpūkahi I Holomua (unite to move forward). He says the program not only provided a traineeship program to reskill and upskill students, but also developed several key components necessary for a strong network of scientists: 1) an ‘ohana (family) of mentors ready to kōkua (assist) the next cohort of data analytics leaders, (2) a Pacific-wide network of interconnected communities that are ready to laulima (many hands working together) on data analytics projects, and (3) leaders ready to mālama (care for, preserve, protect, and maintain) in the community.

Students talk about the course

The online DataCamp, with students enrolled from throughout Hawai‘i and the Pacific, focused on data analytics proficiency. The course introduced the field of data analytics and started the process of “upskilling or reskilling” through a set of curated hands-on learning modules.

Screenshot of students on Zoom.
Students attend DataCamp class on Zoom. Courtesy photo.

Students did not need any prior skills or knowledge in programming, statistics, and visualization. However, at the end of the course, each participant emerged with the confidence and empowerment to continue to the next phase of the program, which is to apply the learned competencies on a real, current, and relevant project in the student’s own community.

Pearlnalin Rilan Anien
Pearlnalin Rilan Anien

“I developed a respect for those who are interested in coding and data science,” says Pearlnalin Anien, a biology major at UH Hilo who attended the DataCamp. “There was a lot to learn and it is not an easy thing to spend four to six hours per day doing data analysis. The knowledge I acquired will go a long way in my research career.”

Nursing student Eseta Ponce, from American Samoa Community College, says pursuing nursing had always been her dream and she wanted to focus on nursing alone. But when she started DataCamp, a whole new world opened up for her. “I felt like this wonderful platform could give me more. It helped me gain my knowledge in the data science field. I know this platform can advance my practical skills and applying it can give a real visualization of business.”

For Iverson Aliven, a marine science major from the College of Micronesia, DataCamp went way beyond expectations. “I had never expected I would be able to learn a language that would help me with data, and one that not many people from my place had ever learned about. So while it was challenging it also gave me an opportunity to learn something truly amazing and take part in an experience that was worthwhile.”

Islands of Opportunity Alliance

Since its inception in 2006, the Islands of Opportunity Alliance headed by UH Hilo 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.


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.

Share this story