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A coastal health collective, water reuse for irrigation and wildfire mitigation, specialty crops to prevent obesity and diabetes, a Symphony of the Hawaiʻi Seas—these are just some of the winning proposals in the 2024 University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Strategic Investment Initiative competition. The winners of the competition, funded by the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Scholarship, were officially notified in late May.

Eleven projects were awarded a total of $2.3 million in the 4th UH Mānoa Strategic Investment Initiative competition, also known as the Provost’s Strategic Investment Competition. The funding supports activities or projects that are multidisciplinary, innovative and novel, that might not fit within the parameters of other conventional funding opportunities, and that are supportive of achieving the goals outlined in the UH Mānoa Strategic Plan.

“This competition underscores the breadth of expertise and sense of community within our faculty and staff at UH Mānoa—a combination that makes our campus truly one of the most special in the world,” said UH Mānoa Provost Michael Bruno. “These projects reflect the sense of kuleana to our campus, and to the people and environment of Hawaiʻi.”

Previous winners

The first Provost’s Strategic Investment Competition was held in 2017 and provided start-up funding for a diverse set of initiatives, many of which have become ongoing programs. The Center for Microbiome Analysis through Island Knowledge and Investigation and Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds project are two examples of the winners from the first competition.

The second competition was held in 2020 with 16 winners. In 2022, participants were asked to address “Building on Lessons Learned through the Pandemic.”

The 2024 Mānoa Strategic Investment Initiative winners

Summaries were provided by the winning entries

The recent west Maui wildfires put a spotlight on the water resources issues in arid leeward coastal communities in Hawaiʻi where perennial water stress, competing water/land uses, and changes in economic and physical landscapes create severe wildland fire risks. One promising solution is to use reclaimed water for agricultural irrigation to establish a “green wall” as a wildfire defensive barrier while in the meantime contributing to Hawaiʻi food security. The goal of this project is to conduct multidisciplinary research to better understand the major water quality challenges associated with the proposed “green wall” concept, and to develop innovative solutions for salinity management and chemical and microbiological contaminant control. The highly innovative research objectives collectively form a comprehensive approach to address major technological issues that span the entire life cycle of the process, including wastewater collection, water reclamation, agroecology, reclaimed water toxicity and environmental monitoring. Completion of the project is expected to make significant contributions to all four goals of UH Mānoa’s strategic plan.

The Native Hawaiian and Pasifika Doctoral Student Leadership ʻAuwai initiative creates pathways toward the academic success of Native Hawaiian and Pasifika doctoral students and their advancement into leadership roles. Native Hawaiian and Pasifika doctoral students support the well-being of their communities by transforming institutions to better serve their populations. Through a series of professional development projects, writing retreats, leadership workshops with local community leaders, conference opportunities, the inaugural campuswide doctoral student leadership symposium, and mentorship from senior faculty and renowned Indigenous scholars, this Provost’s Strategic Investment Initiative helps to carve a collaborative ʻauwai

  1. for Native Hawaiian and Pasifika students to advance in and complete their PhD programs,
  2. to contribute to a culture of ʻŌiwi leadership at UH Mānoa College of Education, Hawaiʻinuākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, and John A. Burns School of Medicine through intentional mentorship,
  3. to grow and strengthen pilina with Indigenous leaders in the education and health sectors,
  4. to support the HIDOE 2023–2029 Strategic Initiative by building leadership capacity, and
  5. to strengthen the mentoring capacities of faculty and students.

This initiative endeavors to carry ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) knowledge into the next century by restoring old paths and breaking new ground for knowledge to flow like an ʻauwai that generates transformative growth in higher education.

The partnership between departments within the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) and the Waikiki Worm Company (WWC) proposes a solution to food waste by establishing a vermicomposting operation at the Magoon facility. This initiative aims to transform food waste from campus vendors and the Mānoa community into valuable soil amendments. WWC, known for its successful waste diversion program, will contribute funding and expertise to the project. Students involved in Hui Koʻe ʻĀina (Earth Worm Hui) will gain hands-on experience, interdisciplinary learning, and engagement with businesses and the community, empowering students to address sustainability challenges. This partnership aligns with CTAHR‘s academic programs and also contributes to the strategic goals of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, focusing on student success, research excellence and campus sustainability.

The rising prevalence of obesity, particularly among Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander populations, connected with increasing diabetes rates and other health complications, presents a significant and costly public health crisis in Hawaiʻi. This proposal is focused on developing a collaborative research network at UH Mānoa to initiate health and nutrition studies of Hawaiʻi specialty crops and fruits to prevent obesity and diabetes. We will further expand the bench-research results to diabetes and nutrition education programs for UH students, the community, and health professionals to promote healthy living and local specialty crop production. Our primary goal is to effectively communicate our research findings and engage with the community to educate the people of Hawaiʻi on how to maximize the nutritional benefits of local specialty crops and fruits for health and nutrition benefits. We anticipate that our collaboration will generate preliminary research data and establish a collaborative network at UH Mānoa, supporting us for submitting applications to USDA and NIH competitive funding programs. Eventually, the team will make significant contributions to decreasing diabetes rates in Hawaiʻi.

Established in 1962, the UH Mānoa Historic Costume Collection is one of the largest collections of apparel, textiles, and related objects in a public university in the U.S. This project will focus on the Hawaiʻi subcollection; it is the only collection of its type in the nation and documents the impact of Indigenous and immigrant groups on the Hawaiian Islands. This sub-collection includes aloha apparel, muumuu, holokū, holomuʻu, locally produced garments, palaka, rice-bag clothing and a recent donation of Aloha Airlines uniforms. This grant will fund a graduate assistant whose job will be to photograph, digitize, organize and input data for each garment into a software database for public access.

The Coastal Health Collective leverages the unique expertise and ongoing work of a team composed primarily of early career researchers and faculty in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology to address community needs that have remained unmet in the wake of the Lahaina urban wildfire disaster on Maui. The project will create a research, community and educational platform inspired by the UH Mānoa Strategic Plan Goals which includes becoming a Native Hawaiian Place of Learning, Enhancing Student Success and promoting Excellence in Research. The three main goals of the Coastal Health Collective are to: 1) Establish pathways and best practices for research in Lahaina that is reflective of Indigenous Hawaiʻi and grounded in aloha ʻāina, 2) Advance coral reef science within the context of the West Maui wildfire recovery and, 3) Enhance student success by providing meaningful research experiences that promote stewardship and inspire aloha ʻāina (caring for the land) leadership.

ANNO 2.0 – the ʻAhahui Noiʻi Noʻeau ʻŌiwi – Research Institute of Indigenous Performance, in the wake of a successful and fruitful first year, is proposing a significant evolution to our institute, informed by our three foundational threads, Maʻawe Mua (Scholarship and Publication), Maʻawe ʻElua (Curriculum and Archive) and Maʻawe ʻEkolu (Outreach and Recruitment). In Maʻawe Mua, we propose further publications in the field of Hawaiian and Indigenous performance, alternative modalities of knowledge sharing including podcast development, and events, resources, and support for Hawaiian theatre productions. In Maʻawe ʻElua, we seek to develop curriculum surrounding performances, an introductory course in Indigenous performance, and potentially a new certificate program. Maʻawe ʻEkolu endeavors to expand our collaborations with Native Hawaiian and Pasifika organizations, to tour with Puana (the upcoming hana keaka production of the Hawaiian Theatre Program) to neighbor islands and to Aotearoa for the Kia Mau Festival, and to host artists through programming, our Hana Noʻeau Series, and artist residencies. Each maʻawe is also built with the intention of nurturing student success through the funding of multiple graduate assistants. We further aim to diversify and grow our financial positioning during this time to expand our capacity to deliver on our vision. In these coming years, ANNO aims to stimulate the materialization of our shared aspiration for the establishment of UH Mānoa as a Hawaiian Place of Learning and the epicenter of research excellence in Hawaiian and Indigenous performance.

Fisheries are at the nexus of society, ecology, culture and economy. The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa has made a commitment to a cross-campus collaborative hire in Sustainable Fisheries for Island-Ocean Systems in support of new graduate degree programs in fisheries. This proposal will support facilitated consultation with government, NGO, industry partners, and community in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific; facilitated development of program curriculum; and program administration from program proposal until admission of the first cohort in fall 2026.

Between 1880 and 1892, during King David Kalākaua’s reign, 18 Hawaiians participated in the Hawaiian Youths Abroad program in six different countries around the world: Italy, Scotland, England, China, Japan and the United States. Native Hawaiian Student Services restarted the Hawaiian Youths Abroad program in 2018 (after a 126 year hiatus), retracing the path of Hawaiian forebearers while engaging students in educational experiences and training abroad, which like the past, are also in service to the Hawaiian community. This proposal to the UH Mānoa Strategic Investment Initiative is to support three cohorts of the Hawaiian Youths Abroad program in a 24-month period from July 2024 to June 2026. These program cohorts have leveraged funding to support the coursework and the faculty and all personnel and supplies for the project, with the request only for travel costs for 3–4 participating faculty and staff each year as well as 20 participating UH Mānoa graduate and undergraduate students. The students will be recruited each year through an application process that will prioritize students who have a commitment to Hawaiian history and leadership. Three cohorts will be supported in two fiscal years of this proposal: (1) FY 25 will include a July 2024 cohort to Tahiti, French Polynesia, as well as a March 2025 cohort to Japan, (2) FY 26 will include a June 2026 cohort to the Pacific Northwest, all in partnership with other universities and partnering faculty.

Given the increasing recognition of the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in medical education and patient care, medical schools in the United States are seeking effective curricula, as well as assessment and evaluation tools that meaningfully evaluate the impact of such curricula. The end goals of these efforts are health equity and improved patient outcomes. The John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) has responded to a call from students and faculty to center diversity, equity, and inclusion with an institutional commitment to honor Indigenous knowledge and give learners the skills to combat discrimination while nurturing their sense of belonging and community. Faculty and staff have had fewer opportunities to engage in this deep work and learning, while, at the same time, students feel the curriculum needs to be more structured and better coordinated; in response, we propose to pilot a humanism focused health equity curriculum to support faculty and staff who engage with students during their clinical years. By collaborating with the Thompson School of Social Work and Public Health, we will deepen our understanding of the ways social drivers affect health and well-being, while a new partnership with the College of Arts, Languages & Letters will enable us to develop a health humanities component to our curriculum that uses art, literature and other humanities to enrich learner experiences. Together, this will promote a sense of belonging that goes beyond teaching skills and concepts to a more meaningful learning experience that will ultimately impact the way we deliver care to patients. Should this pilot prove successful, the curriculum, assessments and evaluation tools can be widely disseminated throughout all of JABSOM and its partners as well as to other medical schools searching for tools to enhance health equity and belonging in their health education programs.

Symphony of the Hawaiʻi Seas project brings together multidisciplinary collaborators to celebrate and honor the ocean. Led by a collaborative team of University of Hawaiʻi faculty, this proposal aims to support the core functional needs to interweave moʻolelo (stories), music, hula (dance), animation, and scientific inquiry to engage grade K–12 students and educators on Oʻahu with the hope to leverage other funding opportunities and extend programming to neighboring islands. Drawing from past achievements of Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds (2018) and Symphony of the Hawaiʻi Forests (2023), this collaboration nurtures pilina (relationships, connections) between the ocean and its people represented in six movements consisting of original compositions and artistic interpretations inspired by moʻolelo, kilo (careful observation) and scientific inquiry. This project will include an orchestral performance with six movements featuring original musical composition and animations by local artists paired with revised marine science curriculum for grades K–12 that align with standards, a Voice of the Sea television episode, and a Hawaiʻi Youth Art Competition.

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