Spring 2016 Maile graduates at the SOEST post-graduation reception

Spring 2016 Maile Mentoring Bridge graduates, mentors and administrators from UH Mānoa and Kapiʻolani CC, photo courtesy of Chip Fletcher

The SOEST Maile Mentoring Bridge program strives to recruit and retain Native Hawaiian and kamaʻāina undergraduates in ocean, earth and environmental science degree programs at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST). In May, the first cohort of Maile students—Charles “Aka” Beebe, Kanani, Lhiberty Pagaduan and Diamond Tachera—earned bachelor’s degrees with the support and encouragement of their mentors.

“Native Hawaiians and kamaʻāina are underrepresented in the ocean, earth and environmental sciences. Which is really unfortunate because Hawaiʻi kids often have strong cultural, family or personal connections to the local environment,” said Postdoctoral Researcher Tiffany Anderson, Maile Mentoring Bridge co-manager and one of about a dozen mentors. “Many times, they are also the first in their families to pursue higher education in science, and can really benefit from the experience of someone who has already gone through the program.”

Creating Maile Mentoring Bridge

Maile was co-founded by Anela Choy, Keolani Noa and Barbara Bruno in 2013. It was the brainchild of Choy, who earned her PhD at a time when there were only a handful of kamaʻāina students in the oceanography graduate program. Recognizing the need to increase involvement of these groups in the geosciences, Choy and her co-founders created the program to foster unique mentoring relationships that offer support, encouragement and sharing of knowledge. Later, Chantel Chang, Rosie Alegado, Heidi Needham and Tiffany Anderson joined the Maile Mentoring Bridge team, ensuring that students will be supported for many years to come.

“We are extremely grateful to the National Science Foundation and Kamehameha Schools for their generous support,” said Bruno.

Lhiberty Pagaduan (left) and mentor Gordon Walker (right) at Heʻeia Fishpond, photo courtesy of Chantel Chang

Undergraduates receive individualized support

Each student is paired with a recent graduate (a graduate student or post-doctoral researcher) to receive individualized mentoring and form a strong personal relationship throughout his or her undergraduate career. Students reap numerous benefits, including: holistic support from their mentors and peers; guidance specific to their career goals; internship, scholarship and research opportunities; and an environment that allows them to express their cultural values throughout their academic careers.

Tati Oje, a Maile Mentoring Bridge participant since 2014, describes her experience with mentor Shimi Rii: “During our first monthly meeting I shared with her my 5-year plan, which she wrote down and gave me ideas on how to accomplish my goals,” she said. ”Every meeting after that, she’d counsel me on my short- and long-term goals while looking back at goals I’d made previously. We’ve been paired for 3 years now, and many of the accomplishments I have are due to her counsel. She’s helped me to look for research advisors, apply to internships, draft introduction e-mails, write cover letters and resumes and make it through the rough patches in school and in life. Being a Maile mentee has enriched my college experience.  I know that I wouldn’t be where I am now without the SOEST Maile Mentoring Bridge.”

Mentors give back and develop career-building skills

The relationship also benefits the mentors, who receive professional development training in how to be attentive, challenging and wonderful mentors—skills they will use throughout their science careers. Mentors find the program highly rewarding, as it gives them an opportunity to use their own life experiences to help develop the next generation of scientists and environmental stewards of Hawaiʻi.

“As a first generation college student, I often found myself lost and frustrated in the academic system,” said Needham, a graduate student in environmental geography. “After becoming a graduate student, I looked into ways I could give back to students in similar situations. As a Maile mentor and program co-manager, I not only have the privilege of offering support to students from what I have learned along the way, I also reap the benefits of seeing them successfully navigate their educational goals.”

Future plans 

Armed with their diplomas and a strong network of colleagues and friends, the Maile Mentoring Bridge students are ready for their next step. Beebe, a recipient of the Hauʻoli Mau Loa Foundation graduate assistantship, will be pursuing a graduate degree in the SOEST oceanography department in the fall. A father of two, Beebe is committed to instilling the values of aloha ʻāīna and kuleana in his children. Tachera will pursue a graduate degree in geology and geophysics, where her research will focus on geochemistry and groundwater flow. Kanani, who is dedicated to the integration of traditional knowledge with contemporary scientific methodologies, will begin the graduate program in geology in August. As a student and mother of three, Kanani balances her scholarly achievements with family values. Pagaduan will continue working part-time for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) and was selected to participate in the summer 2016 GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy professional training in Washington, D.C. She plans to apply to SOEST’s professional master’s degree in geosciences for fall 2017.

Maile Mentoring Bridge program cohort