UH Hilo ag college launches academy focusing on solutions to climate change

A goal of the new academy is to enhance career opportunities in the bioeconomy while providing guiding principles for a more sustainable future.

Jake Rodrique stands next to stand of sugarcane, holding seed cane in one hand and a cutting knife in the other.
Jake Rodrique, academic support specialist at the UH Hilo Agricultural Farm Laboratory, harvests seed cane for a study on growing sugarcane for jet fuel, part of the university’s push toward finding agricultural solutions to climate change. (Archive courtesy photo)

By Susan Enright.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is taking the lead on a collaborative project with an ethanol research center in Illinois and a national nonprofit network of biomanufacturers to create a new “bioeconomy academy” focusing on solutions to climate change.

The UH Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management, along with the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and the nonprofit BioMADE have partnered to form ALAKA‘I, the acronym for “Applied Life-Science Academy: Knowledge Advancing Industry.”

According to a media release from SIU, the academy’s purpose is to accelerate climate change solutions by developing industry-relevant training for delivery in Hawai‘i and across the United States. The primary objective of ALAKA‘I is to provide training for professionals in the bioeconomy, including operators, technicians, scientists, managers, policy makers, regulators, investors, advocates, as well as students.

UH Hilo will pilot flagship trainings in July 2022 and again in summer 2023. Curriculum will draw on traditional Hawaiian and Pacific Island cultural perspectives to provide insights and guiding principles for effective sustainability.

Bruce Mathews
Bruce Mathews

“The bioeconomy is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while maintaining and improving standards of living by replacing fossil fuels with renewable biomass for the materials and fuels we use daily,” say Bruce Mathews, dean of the UH Hilo agriculture college.

Mathews says the bioeconomy bolsters agricultural economies by bringing new value to agricultural waste streams, growing crops grown on marginal lands not used for food production, and value-added bio-products. “It is crucial to enhancing economic development and better living standards for America’s rural communities, and to creating new opportunities for students and the people of Hawai‘i.”

He says a project goal is to enhance career opportunities and accelerate bioeconomy solutions while providing guiding principles for a more sustainable future.

Leadership of the project includes industry professionals with decades of combined experience in the bioeconomy and higher education. The partnership will draw from the technical expertise of a research team at Southern Illinois University with decades of experience in creating workforce training programs related to the bioeconomy. Included is James DeKloe, a consultant based in Vacaville, CA, with experience in education programs that connect graduates to careers in biomanufacturing.

The course curriculum will provide training critical for the program’s long-term success with an eye toward continued education for future generations. Following the first phase of the project, selected course materials will be disseminated nationally with the intention for use by educators from all levels, and for delivery in remote, rural locations.

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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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