Skip to content
Reading time: 2 minutes
Mother and daughter smiling
Michelle Correia and Bethany Okamoto

Anthropology student Bethany Okamoto is the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s first second-generation Keaholoa scholar, following in the footsteps of her mother, Michelle Correia, who was in the program 20 years ago. The federally funded Keaholoa STEM Scholars Program is designed to increase the number of Native Hawaiians and other minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, commonly called STEM.

“We are excited to welcome our very first second-generation Keaholoa scholar into the spring 2023 cohort,” said Program Coordinator Keala Campbell. “Bethany shared that due to her mother’s positive experience and encouragement, she decided to apply.”

Okamoto is currently working as a student assistant for UH Hilo’s anthropology department, and was recently awarded a College of Arts and Sciences Anthropology Department Scholarship for the next academic year.

Proud mother

Her mother graduated from UH Hilo in 2006 with a bachelor of science in chemistry, and is now a high school chemistry teacher at Kamehameha Schools Hawaiʻi campus in Keaʻau.

“I had many once-in-a-lifetime experiences through Keaholoa, like being behind the scenes at the Bishop Museum, where I met [marine botanist] Isabella Abbott,” Correia recalled. “I also traveled to the summit of Hualālai to help collect data on the impact of ungulate herbivores on forests and native birds.”

She said having the chance to do undergraduate research helped her decide on a career path.

“I am so proud that my daughter will also be [an alumna] of the Keaholoa program,” Correia said. “I know she will also have many once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Like me, this program will influence her decisions about her future.”

Pacific alliances

The UH Hilo Keaholoa program is part of a large alliance of colleges and universities in the Pacific region that work together in advancing minority representation in the STEM fields. Support comes from the federal government through the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (L-SAMP), a National Science Foundation program.

The Keaholoa STEM Scholars Program is supported by L-SAMP’s Islands of Opportunity Alliance, a group headed by UH Hilo that includes 10 other partner institutions from American Sāmoa, Guam, Hawaiʻi, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. The alliance works together to increase the number of underrepresented minority students graduating with two- and four-year degrees in STEM disciplines.

UH Hilo hosts an annual symposium with all partners participating, and the mother-daughter team of Correia and Okamoto will be leading the panel discussion “Bridging Generations: I ka wā ma mua, ka wā ma hope,” at this year’s symposium July 24–26.

Campbell said, “Our people have been practicing science in our traditional knowledge systems for our cumulative existence, and Michelle and Bethany are a beautiful representation of how Indigenous student persistence in STEM spans generations.”

To read more, visit UH Hilo Stories.

—By Susan Enright

Back To Top