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Observatories on Maunakea
(Photo courtesy: W.M. Keck Observatory)

The Akamai Summer Internship program, which offers college students an opportunity to gain paid summer work experience at an observatory, company or scientific/technical facility on Hawaiʻi Island or Maui and earn course credit from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, is seeking applicants. The program which is also co-sponsored by the UH Institute for Astronomy (IfA) seeks to develop a skilled STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce to meet the needs of the state’s growing tech industry.

Person in a hard hat climbing a ladder and smiling
Hawaiʻi Island native Logan Sato during his Akamai internship at Gemini Observatory in 2019. Sato is now an engineer at the observatory.

More than 400 college students have participated in the Akamai Summer Internship program since its inception in 2003.

“The high-tech sector is a vital engine to transforming Hawaiʻi from being tourism-dependent to an innovation hub which can provide stable employment opportunities that can keep more of our local graduates from leaving our islands,” said Doug Simons, director at IfA. “Hawaiʻi’s astronomy sector in particular employs hundreds of local people and serves as a source of competitive employment. The Akamai Summer Internship program can be the first critical step in inspiring and opening career opportunities for our Hawaiʻi students.”

A University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization (UHERO) report released in April 2022 estimates astronomy had a total economic impact (output of goods and services) of $221 million in 2019 while supporting the employment of 1,313 residents.

The eight-week internship, part of the Akamai Workforce Initiative, runs from Sunday, June 11 through Saturday, August 12. Applications are due on February 14, 2023.

Interns are paid a $4,000 stipend and are provided with housing (if needed), and travel to and from their home island to an internship site. They complete their projects with a mentor at a company or observatory on Maui, Hawaiʻi Island, or with Hawaiʻi telescope partners at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The Akamai Workforce Initiative is led by the Institute for Scientist and Engineer Educators at the University of California Observatories, in partnership with UH Institute for Astronomy and UH Hilo.

Internship projects provide valuable STEM experience

Upon acceptance into the program, Akamai interns are carefully matched with a project and a mentor within their field, who will supervise the intern throughout the summer. All Akamai interns complete a one-week intensive preparatory course in Hilo, where they gain the skills needed to be successful in the workplace and meet other interns along with Akamai staff and mentors. Mentors help interns gain work experience and build a network that will launch their STEM careers. The interns are coached on communication skills, and will present their projects at the end of summer at a public symposium.

Local students land local STEM jobs

Since launching in 2003, more than 400 college students have participated in the Akamai program, and at least 250 alumni are now working in science and technology jobs, with more than 125 working in Hawaiʻi and contributing to the local STEM workforce. Akamai accepts college students from Hawaiʻi (80% graduated from a Hawaiʻi high school or were born in Hawaiʻi), and a key objective is to increase the participation of underrepresented and underserved populations in STEM. Akamai Workforce Initiative alumni are 37% women, 23% Native Hawaiian and 47% underrepresented minorities.

Placements at observatories and tech companies

Interns in recent years have been placed at many Hawaiʻi Island firms including Big Island Abalone Farm, Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope, Cyanotech, Hawaii Electric Light Company, Gemini North Observatory, Liquid Robotics, Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, Smithsonian Submillimeter Array, Academia Sinica Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Subaru Telescope, UH Hilo, the UH Institute for Astronomy and W. M. Keck Observatory.

Maui placements include Air Force Research Laboratory, Akimeka, Boeing, Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, HNu Photonics, KBR, Maui High Performance Computing Center, Pacific Disaster Center and the UH Institute for Astronomy.

Mentoring to ensure student success

The Akamai Program is a community partnership that offers an exceptional mentoring experience for students. Each year more than 50 engineers and scientists from observatories and tech companies generate ideas for projects that will contribute to their work, and provide a challenging educational experience for the interns. More than 100 local mentors from 27 organizations have participated in the mentor workshop, creating a growing community of local professionals dedicated to bringing local students into local tech jobs, which stimulated the formation of a mentor council that helps guide the program.

Akamai Funders

This year the Akamai Internship Program is funded by: Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, National Science Foundation (through the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, Gemini Observatory, Event Horizon Telescope, Slicer Combined with Array of Lenslets for Exoplanet Spectroscopy), University of California Observatories, Hawaii Community Foundation and Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope.

For more information go to the Akamai Hawaiʻi website.

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