UH Hilo sophomore Taylor “U‘i” Barongan is recording her studies at the University of Stirling, Scotland, through painting with watercolors. An artist, the budding scientist is studying ecology, cellular biology, and film analysis.
A biology major at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo has received the highly competitive U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to fund her studies abroad for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Taylor “U‘i” Barongan worked with UH Hilo’s Center for Global Education and Exchange to coordinate her unique and inspiring academic pathway.
“My mentors in the UH community strongly encouraged me to seek scholarships,” shares Barongan, now studying virtually at Stirling University in Scotland. “[The Gillman scholarship] was one of the most incredible programs I saw, and I thought ‘Wow!’ I loved it. The process was so organized and their focus on a community service project meant a lot to me.”
The Gilman Scholarship Program is very prestigious and selective with less than one in four applicants awarded annually. It is open to undergraduate students who are U.S. citizens currently receiving Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university. The scholarship includes program tuition, room and board, books, local transportation, insurance, international airfare, passport and visa fees.
Barongan credits her UH Hilo mentors and her mom with giving her the support she needs to pursue her studies abroad.
“It meant a lot to have the support of my mentors and my mom,” she says. “My mom went to UH Mānoa, and I grew up on O‘ahu before moving to Big Island. I have been to a lot of places, but I just always had a pull to travel to Europe for the experience. [But] I wanted to still stay connected with my community in some way. This was the perfect opportunity for me.”
The pursuit of art and science
A 2020 graduate of Connections Public Charter School in Hilo, Barongan is very active in scientific research alongside a wide variety of arts including photography, music, writing, and painting. She is sophomore at UH Hilo, and is studying ecology, cellular biology, and film analysis at Stirling. She says she’s more of an artist than a scientist.
“I love culture,” she explains. “I love playing guitar and ukulele. I love writing. I consider the arts to be very important aspects of both life and science. In the future I hope there are more opportunities to continue integrating art into scientific community outreach and research efforts.”
Barongan is unable to attend classes in person in Scotland because, due to covid, students must be from an approved travel advisory country to do so. But she is currently in Scotland anyway, as a tourist, experiencing the culture, hiking, exploring, and enjoying the outdoors.
She draws or paints her experiences to showcase on social media. She posts a lot of her Hawai’i-based art there as well.
With the international scholarship, the adventurous student plans to continue her pursuit of cellular biology studies at Uppsala University, Sweden, in person this spring.
“Travel really teaches you to make the most out of life,” says Baongan. “I’ve always wanted to do something that really involved both my primary pursuits of science and art. I just knew this was a scholarship that I really wanted.”
Last school year, her first at UH Hilo, Barongan worked as a research assistant in a chemistry lab under the guidance of mentor Dianqing Sun, professor and chair of pharmaceutical sciences at the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy. This work, part of the Students of Hawai’i Advanced Research Program (SHARP), involved research into tuberculosis bacteria.
In 2021, Barongan also completed the Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Sciences or PIPES summer program, an undergraduate internship program teaching students about stewardship of natural resources. Students work with teams of mentors who give them hands-on learning experience through community-based organizations. Barongan’s mentor was biology faculty Renee Bellinger, who specializes in genetics, and Barongan was partnered with the United States Geological Survey’s Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center based in Hilo.
“U‘i was a quick learner and a valuable member of our team this summer,” says Bellinger. “The PIPES program is remarkably fast paced, and U‘i was able to design and execute a project from start to finish, thus contributing to an understanding of forest bird disease dynamics.”
Barongan considers Bellinger a particularly influential mentor and notes her consistent support in doing research in as many environments as possible while identifying the positivity rate of avian malaria in Hawai‘i Island’s mosquito population.
“The kinds of [scientific] experiences I have had with UH Hilo are really important to me,” says Barongan. “I am able to try new things, see new things, and learn a little more about what is out there. Everything has helped me grow into a better understanding of where I’d like to keep going. I’m excited to keep going.”
Barongan recently began writing for the UH Hilo student newspaper Ke Kalahea.
She says she can’t wait to share her work in an upcoming issue that includes information about her studies and travels abroad, the importance of supporting big island local businesses, and ways to practice important community-building activities through supporting local arts and traditions.
Looking to the future when she returns to the UH Hilo campus, Barongan says she would like to continue with laboratory research positions with emphasis in the medical field.
“I’m also very interested in becoming more involved with the UH Hilo Women’s Center because that’s something I really care about,” she says.
But globetrotting is still on the agenda.
“I’d eventually like to travel a bit more as well. I definitely have more plans, and places I want to go. I’ll always come back to connect with my community, but there is also always work to be done and somewhere to go.”
By Jordan Hemmerly, who is earning her bachelor’s degree in marine science at UH Hilo. She is a research assistant at the Multiscale Environmental Graphical Analysis (MEGA) Lab where she works in coral reef research.