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people in boats
Rochette-Yu Tsuen during the Hollings Scholar internship.

Upon graduating in December, Keanu Rochette-Yu Tsuen could confidently say that he had seized every opportunity to have authentic, hands-on research experiences during his time as an undergraduate student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Rochette-Yu Tsuen grew up on the island of Tahiti, French Polynesia and moved to Hawaiʻi for college, first as a student at Kapiʻolani Community College and then at UH Mānoa where he completed his bachelor’s in the Global Environmental Science (GES) program in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST).

At Kapiʻolani CC, he had opportunities to participate in research projects in botany, ethnobotany, ecology and microbiology with mentors Wendy Kuntz, John Berestecky and Mike Ross.

“Keanu is a real standout among our STEM students, who took full advantage of every opportunity to participate in undergraduate research both in and out of the classroom, including leading our Ecology Club students on interisland service projects,” said Kuntz, a professor of biology and ecology at Kapiʻolani CC. “We are so proud of his achievements.”

student by research
Rochette-Yu Tsuen presenting his senior thesis research.

Microbiology at Hawaiian fishpond

GES students are required to complete a senior research thesis to build valuable experience and transferable skills. Support for Rochette-Yu Tsuen’s research project was provided by the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Program through UH Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine, which aims to provide training in biological research for a diverse group of students who are underrepresented in the sciences.

Working with Rosie Alegado, associate professor in SOEST, Rochette-Yu Tsuen tested for the presence of bacteria in the Leptospiraceae family in samples collected at the Heʻeia fishpond on Oʻahu. This family of bacteria contains pathogenic members which can cause leptospirosis.

The goal of the project was to find environmental factors that correlate with the presence of Leptospiraceae in the Heʻeia fishpond, which could help researchers provide information about the risk of exposure to the Paepae o Heʻeia community.

“During my time in the Alegado Lab, I strengthened my ability to do research and I developed a better appreciation for microbiology and its application in environmental science,” said Rochette-Yu Tsuen. “I also enjoyed working in my lab because research projects are developed with the input of community members. It’s a different way to approach science and it makes the projects more significant.”

Coral reefs in French Polynesia

In the new year, Rochette-Yu Tsuen will begin a master’s degree in the Department of Oceanography at UH Mānoa studying coral reefs closer to his home, this time in Mo‘orea, French Polynesia.

“Learning about the current ecological changes that threaten our coral reefs, related to climate change, local pollution, predation, and natural disasters, has reinforced my determination to work in preserving those coastal ecosystems and marine resources to better protect the communities that rely on them,” said Rochette-Yu Tsuen.

For more information, see SOEST’s website.

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