William Mokahi Steiner
- College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management
- High School Attended
- St. Anthony H.S.; Wailuku, HI
- College Attended
- Biose State University: A.S.;
- University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
- B.A. Zoology
- Graduate Training
- University of Hawaiʻi - Mānoa: Ph.D Genetics
I am like a CEO of a small company overseeing general management, providing vision for the future, writing grants, developing new research thrusts in sustainability, overseeing people.
Interest in Field:
I have always been interested in agriculture and natural resources. My A.S. was in agriculture, by B.S. in Zoology and my Ph.D. in Genetics with a secondary interest in Evolution. Interactions of the natural world with each other and with humanity have always been central to my interest. I did not plan to go into the management end but saw that leadership in was needed and that I could provide unique insights because of how I grew up and my training. How did you get there?
I grew up on the family Cattle ranch in Idaho after my Swiss-French –Slavic father met my Hawaiian-Portuguese-Chinese mother in Honolulu during WWII where I was born. On the ranch I interacted on a daily basis with cattle, horses and wildlife. Although aptitude tests at Boise State showed I would do well in English and Literature, I opted instead for Science partly out of a never-ending interest in the natural world, how things evolved, and how things worked, but also because there I felt I cold explore the philosophical basis of the origin and meaning of life. It was easy to follow through with life science degrees and the jobs came easily after that.
Clear and open mindedness, intelligent responses based on knowledge of people and natural events as well as animals and plants, insight into how things work, ability to seek out answers and help when needed, lack of fear to follow your vision. Some of what is needed is innate; some has been learned in the crucible of life, in formal studies, in observation of the natural world.
Rewards of Work:
Knowing that what I do will be important to the future survival of our islands.
Relevant Work Experience:
As an undergraduate student in Zoology I worked on a project studying pigeon transferrins and blood proteins at the Honolulu Zoo. This population’s genetic study was aimed at determining if pigeons had multiple paternity patterns and if blood proteins were related to bird diseases.
As a graduate student I worked on the Hawaiʻi International Biology Project, Hawaiʻi Biome. This was the first full-scale, integrated study of the ecology of the islands and was funded by the National Science Foundation. My specific work was looking at metabolic enzyme mutations in Hawaiian Drosophila and determining how they were related to climatic change in Kipuka Ki and Kipuka Puauluu at Volcano National Park.
I had a separate project funded by the Atomic Energy Commission at Eniwetak Marshall Islands studying atomic and hydrogen bomb damage in invertebrate and rat populations to determine the extent of mutation.
At my first job as Assistant Professor, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana I studied genetic structure in Midwest populations of drosophila and had NSF, NIH and Rockefeller Foundation grants to study malaria versus non-malaria vectoring anopheline mosquitoes in Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela, Suriname, Belize, the Caribbean islands, Thailand, and other sites. I and the research crew I worked with determined that these were different species although they looked the same (sibling species).
My second job was Associate Scientist at the Illinois Natural History Survey were I was part of a team that studied spring aphid migrations; the purpose was to use radar and genetic markers to determine the origin of the Illinois spring populations of aphids which we determined came from over-wintering populations in Texas.
Next I went to work for the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Columbia Missouri. While there I also held an adjunct Associate Professorship at the University of Missouri. There I worked on the genetics of beneficial insects; small stingless wasps that attacked corn ear worm and cotton bollworm. I developed a strain of wingless wasps that were antlike and would crawl all over cotton and corn plants looking for the works. I developed several body color mutants that could be used to determine population densities in capture and release experiments. Some of the work on biological control insects I was working with took me to Greece, Turkey, France, Hungary, and Australia.
I then came back to Hawaiʻi this time as a Director for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center. My job was to set this new Center up tow work on endangered Hawaiian species and invasive species. While at the Center I attended meetings in New Zealand and China paid my trip go to Harbin and help them set up a new 500 National Park network by helping set conservation and management priorities and strategies.
I retired from the USGS in 2005 to take the position as Dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo where a personal project is to oversee the growth of food sustainability and security in the islands and biofuel development using oil palm. Island security will become more and more threatened in the future as petroleum production declines (no new oil fields, existing fields are running out, China and India are poised to take ever larger shares of the remaining oil).
As you can see, there really isn’t too much of a theme going on here and practically none of the jobs are relevant to my current position. However, working in practically different fields of work has provided me with a lot of different experiences that have contributed to my current position. For instance, many of the jobs provided basic work experience like how to interact with bosses and coworkers. Other jobs provided me with incentive to work harder as not to ever get into that line of work again. And yet my internships provided me with experience and contacts that have helped me in moving in the direction I am currently heading.
First I respond to email and phone messages and make sure that things I was overseeing the previous day got off to a good start. Then I attend whatever meetings are on my sechedule (typically an average of 3 meetings a day). Then if I teach I go to my class(es) and try to take care of that and to meet with students. Sometimes I oversee student senior level projects. I may also meet with faculty or students who have problems or try to call meetings when I anticipate a problem is about to arise. If enough time is left in the day I may work on a manuscript for publication, a grant proposal, or on research in biofuels that I oversee.
Words of Wisdom :
You wish you knew...:
I came out of a very rural background and small high school (16 in my graduating class). There was no chemistry in my H.S. and math only through geometry. I almost flunked out my first semester because I did not know how to study (I was a straight A student in H.S. and never had to study) and it was a very different “city” culture. It would have helped immensely to have had access to the types of programs that exist in Universities and Colleges today to help students adjust to their new life. In the early 1960s there was no such programs or they existed at only the most progressive schools.
You wish you were told...:
I was lucky in my career in having good mentors. I would suggest to beginning professionals to seek out those older scientists or professionals you admire and get to know them and ask them for advice. They will understand because they have been through getting started also.
Final Comments / Advice:
Be persistent and know your field. Any field is hard to break into, but even the lowest jobs can lead to good things. Sometimes your perseverance and knowledge takes a while to get noticed but it will. People who lead environmental projects are always watching for those with a can-do attitude, a hard worker, and who knows what she/he is working with. I know many managers who started out doing the field work and labor who ended up managing projects. This includes many who started out with only a Bachelor’s degree then after a few years of gaining experience went back for a Masters or Ph.D. Finally, trust in your own capabilities. If you do not know something you need to in order to make your job successful, admit it and go learn it. You can not lead a successful and rich life being afraid of what you do not know. Learn it and grow.