Student writing on a whiteboard

Incoming freshmen and current students at the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) may qualify for three- or four-year scholarships made possible by a $1-million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to the college’s Project Kaihuwaʻa.

The program aims to increase the academic success of low-income, talented students and improve overall retention, graduation and transfer rates.

UH Maui College’s Project Kaihuwaʻa faculty will select 24 qualified students through an application process and interviews. Those enrolled in Engineering Technology, Electronic and Computer Engineering Technology and in Natural Sciences may apply.

In addition to the scholarship, the first Project Kaihuwaʻa cohort will receive faculty mentoring, attend a recognition banquet and have access to leadership activities and research opportunities.

“This innovative program is centered in promoting culturally appropriate learning in the development of our future STEM leaders,” said Michael Ferguson, associate professor of chemistry and co-investigator of the grant. “Kaihuwaʻa is the Native Hawaiian word for canoe hull, which represents the leading voyaging vessel to build institutional capacity to better serve low-income STEM students.”

Ferguson said the grant directly removes the financial barrier students face, and will address filling the gap in STEM-related jobs in the Hawaiʻi workforce.

The five-year grant was made possible because of support from U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who convened ​national experts from the NSF, the Small Business Administration and the Office of Naval Research for a U.S. Senate Small Business Committee field hearing at Maui High School in 2016.

In a release announcing the grant, Hirono said Project Kaihuwaʻa was “just the kind of initiative that I’ve been advocating for in Congress to help give our local students the opportunities and support they need to get into and stay in the STEM pipeline, earn their degree, and go on to fill existing STEM jobs or create new innovative businesses in Hawaiʻi.”

Students interested in the program and getting into STEM-related courses in UH Maui College may submit their names at the Project Kaihuwaʻa webpage.

—By Kit Furukawa