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The Maunakea Scholars program, designed to bring Hawaiʻi’s high school students into one of the world’s most advanced observatory communities, has dramatically expanded for the 2017–2018 school year to serve more local kids. The program announced its tremendous growth recently at the Future Focus Technology and Research Conference.

“Maunakea Scholars is an unprecedented program,” said Kaʻiu Kimura, executive director of the ʻImiloa Astronomy Center. “It is a collaboration between the Department of Education, the University of Hawaiʻi and Maunakea Observatories, coming together for the purpose of providing amazing opportunities to the next generation.”

Launched in 2015 and now working with its third cohort of student astronomers, the program has seen explosive growth to keep pace with demand from local schools as the only partnership of its kind internationally.

  • Double the number of participating schools, an increase from five to ten participating schools from 2016–17 and from three since the program’s inception. They include: Honokaʻa, Kohala, Kealakehe, and Waiākea on the Big Island, King Kekaulike on Maui, Molokaʻi High School, and Kalani, Waipahu, Kapolei and Nānākuli high schools on Oʻahu.
  • Ten telescope facilities, an increase from two observatory participants at the program’s inception. They include Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope, Gemini Observatory, East Asian Observatory, Las Cumbres Observatory, NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, Subaru Telescope, W.M. Keck Observatory, United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, Robo-AO, a UH affiliated telescope, and the Smithsonian Submillimeter Array.
  • Innovative curriculum development as a result of the newly-formed Maunakea Scholars Working Group, created in the official partnership agreement penned by the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education and UH with the Maunakea Observatories in May of 2017.
  • Approximately 200 students will participate in the 2017–2018 school year.

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The program works by pairing a professional astronomy mentor with the students in each participating school to coach them through the process of interpreting astronomy data and crafting an original research proposal. The proposals are submitted to a time allocation community for consideration, and projects are awarded highly-valuable time on participating telescopes based on the merit and viability of the proposals.

Maunakea Scholar mentor and UH Mānoa astronomy graduate student Jessica Stasik said, “I can use some of the best telescopes in the world, so UH has this unparalleled access for students and we now get to give some of that to the younger generation, and that’s really important.”

I actually got to go to Maunakea and I got to see the Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope and I got to see…what astronomers are using to collect my data on.
—Maunakea Scholar and Nānākuli High School senior Amber Nakata

Research ideas have included eclipsing x-ray binary systems, an in-depth look at star forming regions and how they retain their shapes, study of possible life in other areas of the solar system and comparing elements in different supernova remnants and more.

“My observing experience has been crazy so far,” said Maunakea Scholar and Nānākuli High School senior Amber Nakata. “I actually got to go to Maunakea and I got to see the Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope and I got to see … what astronomers are using to collect my data on.”

Throughout the year, Maunakea Scholars supports each classroom with educational resources, including an integrated indigenous Hawaiian perspective to modern science education, led by ʻImiloa Astronomy Center’s MANU ʻImiloa program. ʻImiloa was created to respond to the Western dichotomy view of “science” vs. “culture,” by providing a space where the two can coalesce, where culture makes science relevant, and where new and improved solutions become possible. This holistic approach can make science learning more effective and allows Maunakea Scholar students to understand what they are observing in more impactful way.

Organizers would like the Maunakea Scholars program to continue to grow and spread to all 40 public high schools statewide. For more information or to donate, please visit the Maunakea Scholars website.

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