The McNair Student Achievement ProgramThe University of Hawaii at Manoa

McNair Students Score Symposium Success

Pose the question--"What did you do for your summer vacation?"—to a UH Mānoa McNair scholar and you will likely get an answer that indicates an unparalleled educational experience in developing habits of inquiry as well as problem-seeking and problem-solving.

This much was evident at the McNair Summer Research Symposium, where members of the McNair 2012 cohort presented results of their faculty-mentored research projects conducted in science labs and field settings during the previous eight weeks, or, in some cases, over a more extensive duration of time.

Students chose to investigate issues from their respective disciplines and planned and constructed experiments that yielded the exciting findings presented in George Hall on August 8.  The event drew together McNair staff and several parents and faculty mentors of McNair researchers. Also in the audience were several McNair alumni who were on hand to introduce the day's presenters.

It was no surprise that the presentations were diverse—like the presenters themselves, notwithstanding a shared emphasis on rigorous analysis. Here is just a random sampling:

Civil Engineering major Paul Cabasag told the story of his department's  comparative study into various materials intended to prevent concrete bridges from corrosion and even catastrophic collapse. At the center of the study were concrete panels sunk into Honolulu Harbor a decade ago; each one bore a different admixture with protective properties. And what is the admixture type that fared the best according to the summer lab analysis?  The award goes to fly ash, announced Cabasag.

Geology and Geophysics major Laura Corley researched a process for reversing the beach erosion that is incrementally shrinking Hawai'i's sandy coastline. Using the methodology of photomosaics, Corley identified submerged accumulations of sand atop reefs around Kaua'i and Maui. She said these so-called sand fields can be harvested to replenish beaches and prevent environmental and property damage.

Another form of water—the kind that comes from our faucets—was the concern of Civil Engineering Major Kapiolani Street (also a "double major" in anthropology). Under a long-term internship with the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, Street has assessed the relative effectiveness of innovative conservation measures, ranging from stepped up detection of infrastructure leakage to the low-tech use of rain barrels.

Several McNair students did investigations focused on cancer prevention and treatment: Samson Souza, a chemistry major, discussed his laboratory's success in identifying the structure of a protein; information from the project may ultimately help to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, Souza said. Meanwhile, from the electrical engineering laboratory, Andy Pham told the audience about his work in developing an imaging technology that will assist medical doctors in identifying the location of liver tumors in cancer patients. Biology major Edmar Castillo, who has been interning with the Hawai'i Tobacco Prevention Coalition, has put in time designing and conducting a survey aimed at establishing smoke-free environments in government-subsidized housing units. Why focus people in these types of dwellings? Castillo explained that the people who live in these subsidized units include large concentrations of the elderly, immigrants and low-income residents. "These same groups are also disproportionately vulnerable to cancer and the diseases associated with tobacco use, so we want to use the survey to help them understand the necessity for smoke-free policies," Castillo said.

Another shared element in the McNair symposium presentations was civic responsibility for the application of knowledge gained in the summer internship experiments. Biology major Matthew Lim sounded this theme in presenting results of his research that looked for the cultural determinants of obesity in African-American women, whom he interviewed in an ethnographic study in a low-income Chicago community. Lim noted that many obesity studies sidestep the examination of cultural factors and give rise to flawed interventions that are not tailored to fit the belief systems of specific groups. "If you want to help someone, you must understand them first," said Lim.

McNair scholar Xi Hang Cao

Mānoa's McNairites gather for an exciting day of research presentations.

McNair scholar Xi Hang Cao

My Huong Vong, a food science and human nutrition major, was joined at the McNair showcase by her faculty mentor Dr. Maria Stewart. Vong did a summer project that looked for links between rates of bacterial metabolism in the intestine and chronic disease rates in various ethnicities.