The Next Generation of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Scientists Shine


A summer research program provided 11 Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders (INPA) university students from across the Pacific a valuable opportunity to develop their scientific research skills while addressing the challenges faced by Pacific Island communities. The 10-week program, organized by the University of Hawaii in Mānoa, culminated with student presentations and a celebration at the Ulupō Heiau State Historic Site on August 5.

people plant and clear trees

Students conducted cutting-edge research in environmental biology in the Kailua watershed in Windward Oʻahu. Student projects focused on a variety of topics including systems biology research to address issues identified by the Kailua community, fisheries science, sustainable farming systems, ecological restoration, species science and management invasive species and disease ecology. The focus on place fostered science learning by connecting it to Pacific Indigenous knowledge, fostering an opportunity for effective community engagement, and encouraging collaboration among trainees.

“As Indigenous scholars, our relationships with place, people and our ancestors are intimately tied to our practice, understanding and interpretation of science,” said Kiana Franckprogram co-director and assistant professor at the Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC) at the School of Marine and Earth Sciences and Technologies. “Our curriculum is built on the foundation of pilina, imbued with the intense intellectual rigor of learning ma ka hana ka `ike (gaining knowledge by doing) huli ka lima i lalo (with our hands refused) both in service and research to promote the skills of kilo, pono science and mālama ʻāina.”

person in a lab examining sea urchins

Participating students went through a rigorous application process. Accepted students had all of their expenses covered by a National Science Foundation grant, including travel, room and board, meals, transportation, and other project expenses.

“I found it exceeded my expectations being a program that was not only purely scientific, but implementing culture in our learnings,” said Carlene Blailes, program participant, current student at Leeward Community College, and a native of Guam. “Everyone in the program is exceptionally friendly, and it was easy to bond with each other and for me to come out of my shell. It really is an exceptional program that pushes us out of our comfort zone. , get closer to nature and understand the science behind it all.

Christine Tominikoprogram participant, current student at uh Hilo, from American Samoa, added: “I learned that science is a great contributor to the environment and we did a lot of research this summer to improve the environment around us.”

Train the next generation of INPA scientists

person in a taro patch

INPA are severely underrepresented in STEM majors and careers, significantly reducing the ability to respond to the challenges associated with global change. uh Mānoa experts said this was alarming as small islands in the Pacific are expected to face disproportionate consequences of this global change, including sea level rise, loss of coral reefs, extinction of native species and increased frequency and intensity of storms.

“Access to contemporary technology that produces science is limited, but we are dealing with a long line of excellent scientists, with such untapped potential,” said Matthew Medeirosco-director of the program and associate professor in PBRC. “One of the main goals of our program is to train good Pacific Island scientists.”

Medeiros added: “Knowledge must return to the communities that need it. Knowledge must return to the places that will benefit from it. The knowledge must come back to the people who helped create it with the scientists.

Partnership with Kauluakalana

people in a laboratory looking at microscopes

The program partnered with Kauluakalana, a community-based nonprofit organization committed to restoring natural resources in Kailua, following culturally informed protocols and incorporating Hawaiian ways of knowing. The students worked with their mentors from several uh Mānoa colleges and departments (PBRC, Center of Microbiome Analysis through Island Knowledge and Investigation, School of Life Sciences, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences) and Bishop Museum for carrying out research that has contributed to inform the objectives of Kauluakalana.

“It’s so meaningful to see them grow as young scientists, but to see their projects grow and go deeper into the microbes of the projects they’re doing on ʻāina to help revive this region,” said Kauluakalana Executive Director Kaleo Wong.

-By Marc Arakaki


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