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Local STEM Education

‘Iolani High School, located in Honolulu, O‘ahu, is a prestigious private school in urban Honolulu with which PBRC has established an innovative STEM outreach project. This project has taken on a “life of its own” having now been fully embraced by ‘Iolani’s teachers and administrators. Originally focused on select Advanced Placement (AP) Biology students who began a comprehensive biological and water quality assessment of the estuarine reach of Mānoa and Pālolo Streams adjacent to their school campus, the program has now been expanded to ‘Iolani’s entire AP Biology program and continues to support a long-term monitoring effort in which experienced students who have participated in STEM training activities serve as “mentors” to new students entering the program. Students receive field and classroom training in water quality monitoring, biological survey techniques (Figure 7.5), aquatic species identification and taxonomy, etc. to then apply these in field surveys as part of their AP Biology curricula. A ‘Iolani School Portal was established (http://portals.intelesense.net/Iolani/) for the program as a cyberinfrastructure training tool, but also to facilitate student collaboration and serve as a permanent repository for the data collected by students from year to year. PBRC’s STEM sponsored activities expanded even further with ‘Iolani AP Biology students acting as mentors to 5th graders at nearby Hōkūlani Elementary passing on STEM skills learned in their field project. This student exchange and mentoring has become an annual event between the schools since its inception in 2009. The long-range vision of PBRC in partnership with ‘Iolani is to expand this innovative inter-school collaboration and student mentoring process by the inclusion of other neighboring public schools at higher elevations along Mānoa and Pālolo Streams, e.g., Hōkūlani Elementary, Mānoa Elementary, Noelani Elementary, Kaimukī Intermediate and High, and Pālolo Elementary and Intermediate Schools. This effort could potentially establish a K-12 school-based, “ahupua’a” or “mountain-to-sea” monitoring system of the primary feeder stream of the Ala Wai Watershed, which feeds one of the most polluted water bodies in the State, the Ala Wai Canal, located alongside Waikīkī.


The Kamehameha Scholars Program has worked with PBRC faculty and students to provide Kamehameha students and faculty with specific training in the Kuli‘ou‘ou watershed. This effort included taking Kamehameha teachers and students on field trips and working with them on adding marine conservation to their curriculum and service projects.


Learning Evolution in Hawai‘i (LEi-H) is a pilot program in which PBRC has successfully integrated research with discovery-based science education for high school and undergraduate students by partnering with ongoing NSF EPSCoR and NSF MARC programs. LEi-H is designed to inspire, involve, and integrate students from under-represented groups in biodiversity research ranging from flies to microbes. To date, high-school and undergraduate students involved in this project have included one summer intern from ‘Iolani High School studying the microbes associated with Hawaiian Drosophila host substrates and two UH Mānoa undergraduate biology summer interns (Jeffrey Kwock and Curtis Lee) who worked on oviposition behavior in Hawaiian Drosophila, and currently, one year-long UH Mānoa undergraduate intern (Solomon Champion, funded through the MARC program) working on the microbes associated with Hawaiian Drosophila host substrates. Notably, placing exceptional LEi-H scholars with faculty mentors is a successful model for recruiting high school students into STEM fields at the university level. The first high-school graduate, Iris Kuo (Figure 7.7) from ‘Iolani School, made exceptional progress in her microbiology studies. She competed with her project at the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in early May 2012 in Washington D.C. (making it to the second round of competition), was subsequently accepted to Washington University in St. Louis, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale and was competitively recruited to Washington University as a Moog Fellow with a full tuition research scholarship for biology, chemistry, and life sciences.  Iris and her mentor team are now publishing a manuscript describing a new species of Flavobacterium from her studies. Iris summed up the experience in the program (June 5, 2012): “I’m really lucky to have had this opportunity to work under you! This really changed my life. I appreciate everything you’ve done.”


The West Hawai‘i Explorations Academy (WHEA) located in Kona, Hawai‘i became Hawai‘i’s first Charter School in 2000. WHEA’s mission is “to cultivate critical thinkers who are able to solve real world, complex problems” by “…providing learning opportunities through integrative, hands-on, self-selected projects related to authentic, real world problems”. PBRC research faculty and students became partners in WHEA’s mission and found WHEA teachers and students to be highly interested and motivated in learning in a collaborative “learning community” environment. PBRC researcher Durrell Kapan initiated an innovative and practical STEM educational outreach collaboration with WHEA to develop a “Disease Carrying Mosquito Vector Monitoring and Intervention” program in West Hawai‘i. This effort was initiated as part of an NSF IGERT program in Ecology, Conservation, and Pathogen Biology that focused on determining what factors lead to the coexistence of two vectors of Dengue virus on the Kona Coast, Aedes aegypti (the yellow fever mosquito) and Aedes albopictus (the Asian tiger mosquito), which are distributed statewide (Figure 7.8). These two alien species arrived in Hawai‘i in quick succession in the 1890s and coexisted across the main Hawaiian Islands (except Kaua‘i) until major mosquito eradication efforts culminated in the elimination of Aedes aegypti from all islands except for the Kona coast on the island of Hawai‘i. Since that time, the Kona coast of Hawai‘i has been the only stronghold for Aedes aegypti where it is most common in dry low elevation areas. Since these mosquitos are important vectors of Dengue Fever and responsible for outbreaks in Hawai‘i, most recently in May 2011, it is critically important that Kona residents become aware of Aedes mosquitos and participate in intervention and surveillance activities. As part of their science curriculum, a community-based mosquito study and intervention program has been initiated on the WHEA campus with plans for expansion into the North Kona community. The mosquito surveillance program allows students to monitor population densities and distributions and provide data to better understand the competitive interaction between these two species across an altitudinal gradient from the WHEA campus on the coastline to the higher elevations of Hualalai. Weather stations, deployed by PBRC researchers in North Kona, provide environmental data to evaluate the role of factors like temperature and rainfall in determining mosquito distributions. Students have been trained to deploy passive MosquiTraps to census adults, perform larval surveys, and correlate the relative abundances of both species of mosquitoes, all of which constitutes preliminary background data. A future phase is for students to design and implement an intervention program on campus to reduce or eliminate mosquito populations. As there is no consistent, systematic mosquito surveillance being conducted in West Hawai‘i, this STEM educational project could become the first line of defense against a future Dengue Fever outbreak in the region.