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From left: Kahikimaianakekupulaniokalaʻakea Lauolefiso “LaʻaAliʻifua, Mikayla Shankles, Kayla Valera, Leiolani Malagon-Leon, Li-Anne Delavega, Alan Toetuʻu Tupou.

Five students from Kapiʻolani Community College’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program on the team, Kūlia i ka Nuʻu, won second place in the First Nations Launch National Rocket Competition in April. The Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, which sponsors the competition, released the results on June 1.

The First Nations Launch program invites student teams from tribal colleges and American Indian Society of Engineering student chapters from across the country to design, build and fly a competition rocket. As a tribal college, Kapiʻolani CC students were challenged to build a “true scale” model that closely approximates the design of a current or retired rocket or missile.

Team Kūlia i ka Nuʻu

The five students from Kapiʻolani CC who flew to Kansasville, Wisconsin, for the competition were team leader Alan Toetuʻu Tupou, Leiolani Malagon-Leon, Kayla Valera, Kahikimaianakekupulaniokalaʻakea Lauolefiso “LaʻaAliʻifua and Mikayla Shankles. All are pre-engineering students, and most are of Tongan, Native Hawaiian or Native American ethnic backgrounds.

Said Tupou, “The competition taught me technical skills like fabrication and computer design. But I also learned soft skills such as public speaking, leadership, teamwork and time management. I feel the entire experience is preparing me for the workplace as I move closer toward my career in engineering.”

Faculty advisors for the team were Herve Collin and Aaron Hanai. Li-Anne Delavega, engineering coordinator, provided logistics support during the entire journey. Geena Noelani Wann-Kung, a senior studying electrical engineering at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, served as a peer mentor.

Big winners

Kapiʻolani CC’s students built a replica of the Black Brant II. The rocket flew 2,977 feet, and their simulation only had a 0.168 percent margin of error.

There was a difference of two points between the overall first-place winners and Kapiʻolani CC’s second-place team. Team Kūlia i ka Nuʻu was awarded a $1,000 cash prize. The team also placed second for written reports, third for flight and emerged first in oral presentation. In addition, the team won the Judge’s Choice and Team Spirit awards.

Ninety-three students participated in the program, representing 19 colleges and universities from 11 states.

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