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Mentor working with a students to build autonomous robotics devices at Be a Scientist Night.

For the past six years, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Professor Monique Chyba and her students in the Department of Mathematics have worked in association with the Institute for Human Services (IHS) to provide homeless children a weekly educational program. Mathematics, robotics and rocketry have been the leading themes of the sessions taught by undergraduate and graduate students from various departments at UH Mānoa. Exceptional guest speakers have been brought in. Astronaut Loren Acton, a payload specialist in a 1985 Challenger mission, paid a visit to the K–12 students at IHS in December 2014. The excited students were full of questions and produced a magical exchange that left a lasting impact on many of these young minds. 

Monique Chyba (right) with donated laptops

The yearly event, Be a Scientist Night, takes place each December at IHS. There, about 60 faculty and student volunteers from UH Mānoa transform IHS into a science lab, engaging participants from IHS and the local community with activities rooted in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“We started as a small group, and throughout the years people at UH have embraced this adventure in a way I could not have dreamed of,” said Chyba. “The IHS has welcomed us with open arms, and the impact on us is as big as the impact I believe we have on their children.”

The support of the entire mathematics department

Chyba has the support of the entire Department of Mathematics in her initiative. Recently, the mathematics faculty and graduate students came together before school started this August to provide backpacks and supplies for the children of IHS. Two weeks later, the department donated more than 20 laptops to IHS to serve their educational program.

Funding has come mostly from Chyba’s National Science Foundation grants. Now, she is working on creating a sustainable model to continue this journey that will not rely on money but on human exchange. It is about creating a culture where people give time rather than write a check.  “Sharing yourself is the ultimate gift,” said Chyba, “and I am very optimistic that the UH community will continue to give!”

Chyba with donated backpacks and school supplies

The number of homeless K–12 students in the state of Hawaiʻi has increased significantly over the years, and statistics show that the percent of homeless K–12 students that meet standards in math and reading is on average between 20 to 30 percent less than the statewide average.

“Raising STEM interest and math proficiency within the state certainly is a responsible goal,” said Chyba. “But we cannot forget the economically disadvantaged. The priority is clearly to meet their basic needs first, then create an educational environment to foster their curiosity. Giving them access to resources can keep them on track with their education which is so vital for their future. Through care and mentoring, we can help this young generation reach their educational peak. They deserve every opportunity to succeed in life!”

Get involved

Tutor volunteers for the children of IHS are in high demand. Please contact Monique Chyba at chyba@hawaii.edu if you are interested in tutoring or participating in the Be a Scientist Night.

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