The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa provides more than $400,000 annually to support faculty-mentored undergraduate student projects and presentations. This included $250,000 distributed in spring 2020.
However, because the applications were submitted prior to COVID-19 restrictions and funding decisions were made after these restrictions were put in place, all projects were asked to write contingency plans outlining their ability to move forward and what changes would need to happen to proceed safely to meet the new reality of research during a pandemic.
“UROP fully anticipated that many projects selected for funding would not be able move forward with pandemic-related restrictions on everything from travel to the ability to be in enclosed laboratory environments or in contact with the community,” UROP Director Creighton Litton said. “To our surprise and delight, not a single student or faculty member elected to return their funding, but rather they all developed contingency plans in line with state and university policies that allowed them to carry forward despite substantial challenges.”
Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds
UH Wind Ensemble members spent months preparing to take their Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds performance to Washington state. However, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, their trip was canceled.
“Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds is meant to entertain, educate and inform about the importance of protecting endemic species and the importance of communicating sustainable efforts to protect and conserve the endangered animals,” UH Wind Ensemble member and music major Johnathan De Soto, Jr. said.
It was the main event for De Soto, Jr. and 11 other students, under the mentorship of Associate Professor Jeffrey Boeckman, who had turned the Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds into a spring 2020 UROP project by leading the project and providing an educational curriculum to audiences ahead of their performances. The UH Wind Ensemble already performed on Oʻahu and Kauaʻi, and due to social media, the group was able to showcase the piece and its education, science and art components online to potential concert attendees in Washington state.
“I was lucky enough to interview all of the major collaborators in the original project and have gained valuable insight into Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds,” De Soto, Jr. said. “We found a correlation in the distinct environments in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific Northwest that made it easier to translate our findings to our target audience so that they could understand the relevance between the two states on endemic animals.”
Restructuring a theatre and dance project
COVID-19 travel restrictions forced a theatre and dance student to make drastic research project changes. Marley Aiu was set for an internship at Hollins University in Virginia. Instead, Aiu will conduct a majority of the research online, which begins in June. Aiu’s project, under the guidance of Assistant Professor Peiling Kao, investigates how queerness and contemporary dance coexist, relate and influence one another. Aiu planned to conduct interviews with professional choreographers by asking questions they would “answer” by dancing. While Aiu has adjusted to virtual interviewing, it comes with its challenges.
“Like many people are experiencing in this strange time, the choreographer and I lose the in-person, three-dimensional exchange of energy when dancing is seen from a laptop screen,” Aiu said. “That said, I see this as a unique challenge to use technology to help me understand what the body offers and how, potentially, cyberspace allows us to see even more layers in the complex, multidimensional, queer, dancing body.”
Environmentally sustainable practices
Nursing students Meghan Dorosy and Noelani Kawakami’s project, mentored by Professor Alice Tse, is to study the public’s behavioral intentions on the implementation of environmentally sustainable practices. Originally designed as an in-person survey, due to COVID-19, Dorosy and Kawakami will distribute the survey online via snowball sampling to approximately 200 Oʻahu residents over the age of 18.
Along with providing insights into environmental sustainability behaviors, results are expected to identify barriers that prevent people from implementing environmentally sustainable practices.
“As nursing students, we hope that the findings of our study will help nurses develop individual-level approaches tailored towards selected demographic groups that can be used to implement community-responsive educational programs to promote environmentally sustainable practices, thus, improving quality of life for Oʻahu residents,” Dorosy and Kawakami said.
Studying Chinese history
Shana Brown, associate professor and Department of History chair, is working on a summer 2020 project with Justin Yee, a UH Mānoa undergraduate student, to mark the centennial of Chinese studies at UH Mānoa. “The Establishment of Chinese Studies at UH Mānoa, 1920–1970” involved conducting in-person research at Hamilton Library, the State of Hawaiʻi archives and several other locations.
However, since many facilities closed due to COVID-19, Brown has shifted to finding materials through digitized sources. Many resources are offered at no cost to UH Mānoa faculty, staff and students through Hamilton Library’s database subscriptions. Despite some online resources having mistakes in digitalization or the loss of fidelity in images, Brown welcomes them.
“The biggest lesson is one I keep re-learning: how important our library is for humanities research,” Brown said. “Digitization of historical materials has been ongoing for several decades. When travel or in-person contact is limited, the ability to access materials online is very precious.”
Safe neighborhoods in Spain
Despite current COVID-19 travel restrictions, Katrina Shuping still hopes to be able to travel to Europe later this summer to complete her UROP project. However, the interdisciplinary studies major is ready to create a multimedia study of safe neighborhoods in Seville, Spain whether she is able to travel or not.
Under the mentorship of Assistant Professor Jennifer Darrah, Shuping plans to conduct research in the planning and sociology fields in the future. Shuping created her current interdisciplinary studies plan which allows her to complete classes related to sustainable urban development across different departments. Shuping said the entire COVID-19 pandemic has tested her ability to be flexible.
“My dad always says put yourself in the position to be lucky and fortune favors the prepared, and I have taken this advice by trying to be more flexible and adaptable so that if I am lucky enough to be able to do something this summer I am ready and prepared to do it,” Shuping said.
—By Marc Arakaki