The McNair Student Achievement ProgramThe University of Hawaii at Manoa

2012 McNair Summer News

‘Ohana spirit is the life of the McNair party

Eleven UH Mānoa McNair scholars picked up college diplomas this May. What better way to mark the milestone than with the fellowship that has been the program’s hallmark. At least this seems to have been the working hypothesis of newly minted McNair grads Justin Ragasa and Mikhail Coloma, who planned the May 13 bash at Queen Lili'uokalani Center for Student Services. The fun kicked off with an invocation of drums by McNair Director Maile Goo, followed by the deejayed sounds of McNair graduate assistant Richard Liao. Parents, friends and professors arrived bearing good wishes and congratulations. One-by-one, McNair participants shared reminiscences of their favorite McNair experiences; topping the list: their appreciation for the McNair faculty and their gratitude for the peer support of one another. The Class of 2012 grads also presented the McNair staff with a commemorative koa wood box engraved with a message of aloha. The evening was filled with good food and fun, but there were also some bittersweet notes of nostalgia. Why just ten months ago, this was this same setting for the annual McNair Summer Symposium, where the then aspiring grads put their best scholarly foot in presenting faculty-mentored projects—a major highlight of the McNair experience. Now that leg of the journey is ended, but ahead lies more chances to prove that good learning also yields the reward of good fun.

2012 McNair Ohana Bash

2012 McNair Ohana Bash

Koa momento from McNair students

Koa momento from McNair students

Meanwhile, back at the lab…..

McNair scholar Tristan Martinez’ summer internship at the UH Mānoa mechanical engineering lab is rocket science—or thereabouts. Martinez is researching the design of an autonomous control system for a satellite that will be launched from Hawai‘i, as part of UH Mānoa’s cooperative venture with NASA. This will be the first satellite of its kind built by students, says UH Mānoa Engineering Professor Dilmurat Azimov, supervisor for the project and faculty mentor to Martinez. The satellite project is drawing interest from engineering students at universities around the globe, because of its unique appeal, according to Azimov. “This type of research has real world application and an exciting outcome,” he says, referring to NASA’s Mars exploration program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the “red planet.” The mission is counting on scientists and engineers to design an effective suite of instruments aimed at determining Mar’s habitability. This means that Martinez’ research also has an “out-of-this-world” application.

Samson Souza’s UH McNair summer research project involves an investigation of mTOR kinase. Uhhh… mTOR whatttt???, a McNair staffer was prompted ask during a lab visit with Souza at Bilger Hall. Souza took a moment to explain that this is a substance known to regulate human cell growth; a better understanding of its structure could ultimately lead to development of cancer-fighting drugs.  Souza will be sharing more about his lab experiment during the upcoming McNair summer research showcase in August. UH Mānoa Chemistry Professor Ho Leung Ng is mentoring Souza’s summer lab work; he applauds the McNair showcase and similar student symposia for STEM college majors. “It’s important that these students increase their visibility in research, because the experience generates the enthusiasm and support of other students,” says Ng. Ng also has praise for McNair’s support of underrepresented students. As someone who grew up in a low income Kalihi neighborhood, Ing says college seemed like a long shot to him and his many peers. “We didn’t have the role models of our more advantaged peers,” says Ng, who nevertheless overcame many challenges and went on to earn a Ph.D. from UCLA.

Ever since the whaling industry boon in the late 1850’s, Honolulu Harbor has been a major trans-Pacific port of call. More than a century and half later, the age of the harbor’s structures—piers included—is raising concerns and is the topic of research for McNair’s Paul Cabasag, a UH Mānoa civil engineering major. In a summer project under the mentorship of Professor Ian Robertson, Cabasag is comparing the relative strengths of cement admixtures, designed to inhibit corrosion. Earlier this summer huge samples of the cement were taken from the harbor and transported to the civil engineering lab. The summer project requires Cabasag to pulverize the material with a special grinder and then analyze the resultant “dust samples.” Cabasag will present his findings at the McNair summer showcase and hopefully contribute to the knowledge that will help give Hawai‘i’s historic harbor a lasting future.

Professor Dilmurat Azimov and McNair scholar Tristan Martinez

Professor Dilmurat Azimov and McNair scholar Tristan Martinez

Professor Ho Leung Ng and McNair scholar Samson Souza

Professor Ho Leung Ng and McNair scholar Samson Souza

McNair scholar Paul Cabasag

McNair scholar Paul Cabasag

Summer Symposium

This Fall, UH McNair scholar Laurel Pikcunas will pursue a Masters of Urban and Regional Planning at UH Mānoa. In the meantime, Pikcunas immersed herself in planning issues at this summer’s Hawai'i Family Financial Empowerment Symposium. Sponsored in Waikiki by the Kahua O Ke Ola Foundation for Prosperity, the three-day event focused on collaborative ways to help Island families access resources and build a better future. Pikcunas helped organize the Symposium activities that included site visits to projects that exemplify multi-sector approaches to strengthening community.  At the end of the day, Laurel and other participants partnered in a brainstorming session aimed at crafting action plans for the many new ideas formulated in the course of the conference. Pictured here: Laurel discusses her conference activities with UH Mānoa Urban and Regional Planning Professor Karen Umemoto.

McNair scholar Laurel Pikcunas and Professor Karen Uemoto

McNair scholar Laurel Pikcunas and Professor Karen Uemoto