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Student Stories of Excellence

These students embody UH Hilo's strategic goal – to prepare students to thrive, compete, innovate and lead in their professional and personal lives. A quality education at UH Hilo is more than a promise, it's illustrated in the accomplishments of our students, faculty and distinguished alumni. Here is just a sampling of the wide range of achievements that members of our UH Hilo ‘ohana have accomplished throughout the year. Achieving excellence is an opportunity for every student at UH Hilo.

UH Hilo Students


reuben tate

Reuben Tate - Computer Science and Math student

Computer Science and Math Major earns top 1% spot…..

More than 23,000 competitors worldwide participated in Google’s 2015 Code Jam contest this year, which started in April and is scheduled to conclude in August.  This Code Jam consists of four online rounds with the World Finals taking place at Google’s Seattle office. UH Hilo’s Reuben Tate successfully competed in the 1th round and** took the top 1% placement.** 

This 12th annual online programming competition attracts professional and student programmers from all over the world to battle against each other as they attempt to solve complex algorithmic puzzles.  This year’s competition has the added new twist in testing participants’ skills in solving problems using a network of computers concurrently.

Tate enjoys this Code Jam because it allows him to use his programming and math knowledge to solve what Google terms as real-world problems.  This competition also forces participants to think outside of the box and hone in on their time management skills.  He attributes his successful performance in this rigorous competition to the support received from both the computer science and math faculty at UH Hilo.

Read more information about the Computer Science program, or the Mathematics program at UH Hilo.


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Melissa Adams

Melissa Adams - Geology student

Melissa Adams, a Geology major, has discovered her passion with the help of UH Hilo and NASA. When she first came to the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, her goal was just to get her degree. But soon after she arrived, opportunities opened up that allowed her to be a major part of NASA research. Before she knew it, she was speaking at conferences in Washington D.C., interning in Houston, Texas, and trekking through the mountains to find space analogs.

Adams is part Hawaiian, but as a youth she traveled with her military parents throughout the United States. She was attending a university in the Mainland when she decided to transition to UH Hilo. A geology lover at heart, she chose Hilo because of its outstanding natural features – Hilo is surrounded by the tallest mountains and the youngest volcanoes in the world. A short half-hour drive away from the University, an active lava flow is being studied right now as it moves slowly downslope.

As Adams progressed in her studies, Rob Kelso, her supervisor at the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES), recommended Adams to speak about lava tubes and their potential for analog studies on different planets for a conference at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. in 2013. Adams agreed to speak at the conference, but didn't understand at the time what an honor it was. When she got there, Adams saw that she would be speaking along with the likes of Dr. Steve Squyres, a professor of Physical Sciences at Cornell University (as well as the principal investigator in the Mars Exploration Rover Mission), and Dr. Lisa Pratt, a geological science professor at Indiana University. Understandably, Adams was extremely nervous – she was an undergraduate speaking at a conference next to the orchestrators of interplanetary missions. But she soon learned that she was just as welcome there as everyone else. Her status as an undergraduate set her apart and showed that she was special.

Adams was awarded an internship with NASA in Houston for the joint research she conducted with Jacobs/NASA Scientist Trevor Graff and John Hamilton, logistics and EPO manager for PISCES. The trio employed satellite imagery to identify specific geologic properties contained in basaltic lava located on Maunakea. She received the prestigious Sally Ride scholarship – a scholarship in honor of the first woman in space. There she received training that would have been impossible anywhere else in the world. She learned how to use complex geologic and astronomic equipment, and she received certifications in Radiation and Laser training. Adams said the internship was like a "dream."

This internship, along with the conference, opened Adams' mind up to Planetary Geology as a career possibility for her. Not only did they provide her with the opportunity to meet hugely influential people in the field, but they also captured her imagination. Now, Adams is obsessed with Mars.

Adams graduates in December 2014 with a job waiting for her at NASA in Houston. She will be doing more of the work that she did in her internship, and living her dream of working in planetary geology. Adams wanted to thank some of her most influential professors: John Hamilton, a physics and astronomy professor, and one of her first mentors at UH Hilo (who persuaded Adams to begin to look beyond Earth in the first place), Ken Hon, and Jim Anderson from the Geology department for influencing and mentoring her.

Adams believes that it would have been impossible for her to learn and experience what she has at any university other than UH Hilo. With the outstanding local geology, and all the current research that is being done on island, she has been able to advance further than she ever thought possible.

Read more information about the Geology program at UH Hilo.


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Team Hoku - Computer Science students

Team Hoku smiles for the camera
Team Hoku, featured from left to right: Casey Pearring, Brian Hall and Theodore DeRego (not pictured: Lucas DeRego)

UH Hilo’s Team Hoku captured first place in the 2015 Microsoft Imagine Cup Pitch Video Challenge, Games Category. Team members Brian Hall, Theodore DeRego, Lucas DeRego and Casey Pearring produced a three-minute video featuring reForge, a 2D online sci-fi sandbox game where players command customizable ships in tactical battles. Players will collect resources, trade in a player-driven company, and team up competitively to control various parts of the game universe. UH Hilo students Kristin Pederson and Kelli Yamane worked on the documentation aspects of the game, although they are not official members. Team Hoku received a $3,000 cash prize and is moving on to the Blueprint and User Experience challenges. The Imagine Cup competition is recognized as the premier global student technology competition, honoring innovations that address the world’s toughest problems.

Visit the Imagine Cup website for more details.

Read more information about the Computer Science program at UH Hilo.


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Alyssa Loving

Alyssa Loving - Mathematics student

Few people think of mathematics as a subject that inspires much passion from the people that study it. But for Alyssa Loving, a Mathematics major at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, it’s opened the doorway for her to explore the world and lead the frontier in new fields of mathematical research.

Alyssa Loving, a native of Honomu, was home-schooled until she began attending UH Hilo in 2011. After taking the COMPASS Math test, she placed in the third level of Calculus – much higher than the vast majority of entry level students. She continued to display mastery over mathematics, a fact that she partially attributes to the encouragement and helpfulness of the professors at UH Hilo. At every turn, Alyssa feels that the professors of the Mathematics department have helped clear the path for her to explore new opportunities.

One of those opportunities that Alyssa partook in over the fall semester of 2014 was a truly extraordinary one. There are two clear leaders in international mathematics study programs – one in Moscow, Russia, and the other in Budapest, Hungary. Through the combined efforts of Alyssa’s professors in the Mathematics department, and the impressiveness of Alyssa’s own accomplishments, she was accepted to attend the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (BSM) program, an intensive fourteen-week curriculum in advanced mathematics, studying under leading Hungarian scholars.

Alyssa describes her experience in Budapest as extremely enriching. She not only had the opportunity to explore a foreign city and immerse herself in a different culture, but was also able to learn new perspectives and ways of studying. Budapest is often listed as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – with its many castles and cathedrals, it is the 25th most popular city destination in the world. Needless to say, traveling to Budapest after living her entire life in rural Hawaiʻi, was both an incredible and stressful experience. However, she didn't let the pressure of performing in a foreign environment get to her – Alyssa thrived in Budapest, and the experience of studying there is a huge step forward in her future career.

Alyssa’s professor, Dr. Reni Ivanova, has nothing but praise for her achievements. Alyssa has a history of academic accomplishments, including participating in the 2012 Pacific Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) Math program at UH Hilo, the 2013 MIT Summer Research Program, and 2014 SMALL Research Project at Williams College. She has presented her work at numerous national symposiums, and received multiple accolades, including the Undergraduate Research Poster Award at the 2013 SACNAS National Conference.

Alyssa is extremely grateful to Dr. Ivanova, who was instrumental in securing the funding for Alyssa’s semester in Budapest, as well as several other out-of-state trips for studying mathematics. Dr. Ivanova is a firm believer that it is the professor's job to ensure that students reach the best that they can be, and that with ambition, clear goals, and the aid of their professors, students can accomplish whatever they want. “It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a department to raise a student,” she says. “It is my responsibility to support my students.”

Alyssa expects to graduate this year with a Bachelor's in Mathematics. She is extremely excited for what is coming next in her life, and the direction that mathematics has the potential to take her. She believes that her rapid success is, in large part, due to the impact that the UH Hilo faculty has had on her. She says that she has always had professors that care about her success, and that she can always count on them to help her reach new opportunities. At UH Hilo, professors are able to provide lots of one-on-one time with students; this interaction means that students are able to receive opportunities that are curated for their individual wants and needs. Alyssa's trip to Budapest is a prime example of the kinds of things that students and professors who work together can accomplish.

Read more information about the Mathematics program at UH Hilo.


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Carrie Soo Hoo

Carrie Soo Hoo - Marine Science student

Carrie Soo Hoo is no average undergraduate. Due to her outstanding achievements, she was accepted into the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Research Honors Certificate Program now offered at UH Hilo. The honors program became available last year and is a great opportunity for students at UH Hilo who are willing to take their education to the next level.

In addition to her strong and consistent academic performance at UH Hilo, her many accomplishments include: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship (a 10-week internship at the NOAA Marine Fisheries Maine Field Station working with researchers on a telemetry efficiency study); a presentation of her research at the NOAA Science and Education Symposium in Maryland; the UH Hilo Semester at Sea Scholarship and the Institute for Shipboard Education Semester at Sea Merit Grant (enabling her to study abroad on a university ship while visiting 12 countries); and the Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research Award for $700 (which will be used to pay for analytical services for her marine sciences project).

Soo Hoo is a Marine Science tutor at the Kilohana Academic Success Center at UH Hilo, served in cabinet positions for the UH Hilo Marine Mammals Club, and has been an orientation leader for UH Hilo's New Student Programs for the past four years. She has also been on the CAS Dean’s list every semester of her attendance at UH Hilo and received the CAS Dean’s Scholarship for the past two years. Soo Hoo’s project for the STEM Honors Certificate program (which doubles as her senior thesis) is part of a larger project that examines changes in benthic habitat in regards to coral and algae cover. She is observing a near shore sewage system in Puako to determine and identify the possible negative effects on the marine ecosystem. Through these observations, researchers will try to determine the specific cause and location of hot spots of changes in the marine ecosystem. Soo Hoo identifies nitrogen isotope signatures to determine if the nitrogen occurring in the ocean matches what can be found in the soil of Puako, which could explain the growth of algae and decline in coral.

Although Soo Hoo has already built quite a resume, she is continuing her studies by pursuing another degree in Psychology and intends to advance on to graduate school. In the future, she aspires to use her knowledge to connect both the natural and social sciences.

The STEM Honors program also offers a funding opportunity to its honor students only. Soo Hoo's STEM Honors advisor, Dr. Reni Ivanova, has received a large grant to disperse to deserving students. Soo Hoo has submitted her proposal and is waiting for approval. UH Hilo’s Dr. Tracey Wiegner is Soo Hoo’s senior thesis and STEM Honors mentor.

In order to be accepted into the UH Hilo STEM Honors Certificate Program, one must have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.75, complete a research project under an advisor, and present at the STEM Honors Symposium. It is also required to complete the specified curricula in addition to 3 to 8 credits of major core courses for the student’s degree.

Read more about the STEM Honors Research Certificate program, the Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research , or the Marine Science program UH Hilo.

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