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After a two year hiatus due to the pandemic, the popular “Be a Scientist” night, providing valuable STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and activities for at-risk keiki and women, returned to the Institute for Human Services (IHS) on May 6.

The effort was led by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Department of Mathematics, in collaboration with the Hawaiʻi Pandemic Applied Modeling Work Group, UH’s Institute for Astronomy, UH Mānoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology Assistant Researcher Frances Zhu’s Lab, UH Mānoa’s Center on Disability Studies, the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education, and Oceanit.

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Students, faculty and staff from the organizations taught approximately two dozen (smaller number than previous years due to COVID-19 safety protocols) children and women about mathematics, epidemiology modeling, robotics and astronomy through many different hands-on activities. Professor Monique Chyba has been working with IHS for more than 10 years on events like this and says that proper education for keiki is important, especially during COVID-19.

“The pandemic has been extremely difficult on many families and created an even bigger gap in education for the children without permanent housing and access to computers/internet,” Chyba said. “While this is only a one time event, we are continuously in touch with IHS to provide other resources when needed (such as tutoring or summer programs). It is also a great opportunity for UH to come together for our community.”

UH Mānoa undergraduate students Ionica Macadangdang (biological engineering major) and Ralph Martin Adra (astrophysics major) took the lead in organizing the event, with guidance from Chyba. Both students are also involved in the COVID-19 mathematics modeling team that has provided valuable insights about the prevalence of the virus within our communities.

“Being a part of ‘Be a Scientist’ night at IHS is always a fun and worthwhile experience,” Macadangdang said. “Especially after returning to IHS with such a big turnout of both participants and UH volunteers, you could really sense that everyone involved was eager to interact with the kids and other community members and get them excited about STEM. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how this event will grow and continue to support our keiki!”

Adra added, “Planning this event was nonetheless difficult but worth it! Helping the keiki reminded me of how I first aspired to choose my major of astrophysics. Their bright eyes of passion and love towards science were the same ones I had back then, and this experience has really inspired me to keep going towards my goals in my future.”

various toiletries like diapers

Oceanit provided a catered dinner for the shelter’s population. In addition, UH Mānoa’s math department collected approximately $800 to purchase toiletries, which was donated to IHS.

“We are so grateful to UH Mānoa for putting together this amazing event for our families and women here at IHS. These past two years have been hard because we had to stop all events and classes that bring IHS together,” IHS Children’s Program Specialist Candice Moore said. “Seeing the smiles and excitement at this event is so heartwarming.”

This outreach event is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

—By Marc Arakaki

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