MKAEC reaches out to give students a unique view

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Date: Friday, May 6, 2005
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642

For Immediate Release

“Our kupuna (elders) tell us that we are particles of the heavens; the astronomers today believe that we are particles of the stars.”

Kahalelaukoa “Koa” Ell is a Native Hawaiian woman who has worked as a Cultural Interpretive Guide on Mauna Kea for the past seven years. As such, she has a unique perspective on the mountain that has at times divided astronomers who value its summit as the finest platform on terra firma to view the cosmos and Native Hawaiians who hold the mountain as sacred.

“I am very in tune to the surroundings of my ancestors that I can feel their spirits around me when I am on Mauna O Wakea, Wakea’s Mountain, the Sky Father,” Ell said. “I have also become very close to most of the astronomers and scientists that work on the mountain as well. We are an extended ‘ohana.”

Ell, who works for the Mauna Kea Astronomy Education Center at the University of Hawaii at Hilo , is sharing her knowledge of “both sides of the mountain” with schoolchildren through distance learning technology. Through a special U.S. Department of Labor Women in Technology grant through the Hawai`i Island Economic Development Board, MKAEC Director Dr. Marlene Hapai teamed Ell with John Southworth of the University of Hawai`i at Manoa’s Curriculum Research and Development Group and the Educational Laboratory School, who mentored her in the use of ivisit interactive educational computer software.

“Koa is making her PowerPoint presentation from right here at MKAEC,” Hapai said. “There is also a corner box showing her speaking, as well. It is totally interactive and in real-time. Today’s technology allows her to make presentations from her desk that she could only have done previously by going place to place by automobile. Now she can share her story with students around the State of Hawai`i as well as the world.”

Ell has already completed the first half of her presentation to eighth graders at Kula School’s Laboratory School on Kauai. She will present the second half next Tuesday, May 10.

“That was such an awesome experience for me as well as the students,” Ell reflected on her first foray into the interactive virtual classroom. “To have them join in with me to chant and to share my mana‘o (thoughts) with them. That they were so open to hearing has been a highlight of my career.”

Kent Hindes, an MKAEC volunteer with a background in aerospace engineering, witnessed Ell’s first presentation. Hindes is currently working on a manual for docents at MKAEC and for teachers who bring their students through the interactive astronomy center.

“I gave her a standing ovation,” Hindes said. “Her presentation covers a lot of stuff. It covers the mountain and the astronomy going on up there. And it also covers the legends surrounding the mountain and wayfinding (celestial navigation) done by the Polynesian people and the people of old Oceania.”

Hapai said that Ell’s initial presentation is an important milestone for MKAEC, for the Women in Technology Program and for Ell herself.

“The goal of the WIT program is to give women the opportunity to learn the use of new technologies and broaden their backgrounds, enabling them to participate in fields predominantly occupied by men,” Hapai said. “I think we’ve brought an outstanding team together to use technology to achieve one of the important goals of the Center, that of bridging science and culture.”

Ell says that her historic presentation is just the beginning.

“I feel that it is very important to enlighten people from all over the world on the cultural as well as astronomical aspects of Mauna Kea,” she explained. “I believe that we need to work together toward a common goal, which is the study of the cosmos from where we are created.”

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