Top UH Hilo stories for spring 2019: Women in STEM, food pantry, research awards, new chancellor named, more!

The 2019 spring semester was packed with achievements at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. Here are a few of the top stories.

View of campus looking toward Student Services Building.
View of UH Hilo campus looking toward Student Services Building. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri.

Students

Graduate and undergraduate women students planned and organized the inaugural Women in STEM Conference held in February. The all-day event brought together women leaders, scientists, students, and members of the campus community to discuss the current state of affairs for women in the STEM fields. Topics covered social history of women in STEM, the importance of mentorship, the issues of sexual harassment, mental health, the wage gap, work-family-life balance, retaining women STEM students, and creating a supportive climate for underrepresented minorities in STEM.

The concept of a campus food pantry for students in need was developed by business student Jordan KamimuraHale Pa‘i ‘Ai, a one-year pilot project that launched a soft opening in April, is officially opening this fall to provide services to students in need of reliable access to food. The Administrative Affairs project is to help students who may experience limited access to food at different times of the year due to lack of money and other resources. Kamimura’s business concept includes pop-up concessions on campus to provide funding support.

Marcia Sakai, Jordan Kumimura, Kalei Rapoza.
Left to right, Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai, business student Jordan Kamimura, and Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Kalei Rapoza at the rollout event of the Teapresso Bar concession March 13, UH Hilo. The concession will support a new food pantry program on campus; Kamimura created the business plan for the pop-up and food pantry.

UH Hilo Marine Option Program students once again made a big splash at the annual statewide MOP SymposiumBryant Grady’s project on reef ecology won Best Research Presentation, which has been won by UH Hilo Marine Option Program students for 26 of the past 31 years. Alexa Runyanwon the Pacon Award for the best use of technology.

Three UH Hilo students presented their research projects at the annual meeting of the worldwide Society for Applied Anthropology held in Oregon where 2,000 academics and consultants attended the event. UH Hilo undergraduate Alexis Cabrera, with the mentorship of anthropology professor Lynn Morrisonwon 3rd prize out of 90 student submissions (mostly master’s and doctoral projects) for her poster presentation.

Alexis Cabrera and Lynn Morrison. Poster is in background.
(Left to right) Student Alexis Cabrera and Prof. Lynn Morrison. Cabrera won 3rd prize out of 90 student submissions for her poster presentation entitled, “This Skull Has A Story: Analysis of a Skull Lacking Provenience.” Annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology, March 22, 2019, Portland, OR.

Senior Rebekah Loving, from Hāmākua and double majoring in computer science and mathematics, is researching RNA sequencing and her work has gained the attention of a “who’s who” of top research universities across the country. Loving has received acceptance letters with offers of full funding to doctoral programs in biostatistics, computational biology, and computer science from Harvard, Columbia University, University of California Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology.

Faculty

The extraordinary work of UH Hilo faculty was noticed throughout the world.

The Jan. 23 airing of PBS’s NOVA, about the 2018 Kīlauea eruption, prominently featured UH Hilo scientists Cheryl Gansecki and Ryan Perroy and their work on chemistry analysis and aerial monitoring of the flow respectively. Gansecki, a geologist, provided real-time chemistry analysis of lava samples that helped determine how the lava would behave and how fast it would move, crucial information for Civil Defense and other responders. A group of undergraduate and graduate students led by Perroy, a geographer, piloted drones day and night capturing thermo and regular imagery of the lava flows, gathering critical information for the government agencies overseeing the eruption response.

UH Hilo biologist Rebecca Ostertag and geologist Jené Michaud were part of a team awarded an international medal for their paper questioning a fundamental assumption in the field of restoration ecology—the researchers suggest that nonnative, noninvasive plant species can be an important part of Hawaiian forest restoration. The Bradshaw Medal is given by the Society for Ecological Restoration in recognition of a scientific paper published in the Society’s major journal, Restoration Ecology.

Group of researchers in the field.
Forest restoration researchers and assistants (left to right) Corie Yanger, Jodie Rosam, Susan Cordell, Becky Ostertag, and Amanda Uowolo. The researchers recently won a Bradshaw Medal for their innovative approach to native forest restoration. Courtesy photo, click to enlarge.

Making international news was the story about Maunakea astronomers collaborating with UH Hilo’s very own Larry Kimura, renowned Hawaiian language professor and cultural practitioner, for the Hawaiian naming of the black hole recently discovered. Pōwehi, meaning embellished dark source of unending creation, is a name sourced from the Kumulipo, the primordial chant describing the creation of the Hawaiian universe. The name awaits official confirmation, but it has already made the world take notice of the deeply meaningful Native Hawaiian connection to the discovery.

Campus

Early in the semester, UH Hilo hosted a two-day Islands of Opportunity Alliance conference. UH Hilo administers the alliance, a collaborative group of 10 partner institutions in American Sāmoa, Guam, Hawai‘i, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The partners all share the common goal of increasing underrepresented professionals in STEM fields and together we are working toward more diversity in the quest for and understanding of scientific knowledge.

Large group seated at tables arranged in a square.
The Islands of Opportunity conference was attended by approximately 30 participants from across the Pacific region, including campus coordinators and administrators from each of the 11 alliance institutions, as well as the governing board, two external advisory boards, and an external NSF evaluator from Washington D.C. Jan. 11, 2019, UH Hilo campus. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri, click to enlarge.

A 40-session listening tour is underway in preparation for UH Hilo’s new strategic plan. The inclusive planning process is creating a strong foundation for a living strategic plan for our campus. Among the members of the UH Hilo ‘ohana, listeners of the tour outcomes will include our new UH Hilo chancellor and a Strategic Planning Committee that will be formed once the permanent chancellor is in place.

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

In February, the university received long-awaited news of the unanimous approval from the UH Board of Regents in naming UH Hilo’s new chancellor Bonnie Irwin. Chancellor-Designate Irwin is looking forward to working with students, faculty, staff, alumni, island leaders and community members to build on the decades of great work to move UH Hilo and the community forward. She will start her tenure with the university ‘ohana on July 1.

 

This story is based on a message to the UH Hilo ‘ohana from Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai.