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Introducing Lahaina Intermediate girls to engineering and astronomy

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Mar 9, 2017

Lahaina Intermediate School students were inspired during Introduce a Girl to Astronomy Day atop Haleakala. Pictured with Technology Coordinator Tom Norton are, from left: Precious Dimaya, Caitlin Baclay, Taryn Cabingas, Akira Foreman, Aiesha Pradhan, Abigail Akamine, Ashley Akamine, Keeana Villamar, Angelina Rakestraw, Charelise Wurts, Elizabeth Ankney and Rebecca Segura. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAHAINA INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL.

LAHAINA – In observance of February’s National Engineers Week, Maui Economic Development Board’s (MEDB) Women in Technology (WIT) Program hosted two days of special activities in science and engineering. Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED) and Introduce a Girl to Astronomy Day (IGAD) exposed Maui girls, grades 7-8, to the male-dominated fields of engineering and astronomy to show them the opportunities that are available to them.

For the past decade, MEDB and WIT have been at the forefront of providing cutting-edge STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) programs across the islands to meet 21st century workforce demands. They have teamed up with the County of Maui, Maui Electric, Air Force Research Laboratory, and local industrial and scientific firms to provide a day of hands-on activities and worksite visits. Along with raising awareness of the contributions engineers make to the community, IGED and IGAD also introduced students to the diverse STEM fields in Hawaii.

“This year, IGAD was added as a new program to stimulate girls’ interest in astronomy as a viable and exciting career choice that requires STEM education,” said WIT Project Manager Mapu Quitazol. “Women still represent less than 5 percent of engineers in Hawaii, and studies predict there will be a further shortage of engineers in the next two decades. Together, we can challenge those daunting statistics.” In fact, Quitazol noted, “Engineering is the number one job that parents should be encouraging their girls to pursue.”

“The sooner we get girls engaged in the engineering field, the faster they can begin learning the skills to compete for these well-paying, in-demand jobs,” Quitazol noted. “Girls were invited to job-shadow local engineers and scientists across the state from private sector companies, Department of Defense and more, to learn the skills needed to compete for these high-demand engineering careers.”

“It is important to develop future leaders through community-based programs designed to address planning for Maui’s future,” said Sharon Daniels of the Maui County Committee on the Status of Women. “IGED and IGAD engage young women in events that provide an opportunity to do hands-on problem-solving projects. Hopefully their experiences will add to their skill set and inspire them to choose a STEM career.”

Lahaina Intermediate girls — from left, Tiffany Tran, Hokulua Godoy, Kahealani Garcia, Sosefina Riley, Quelsy Borce and Alexa Acosta — participate in Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. PHOTO BY CINDY SCHUMACHER.

During IGED, several Lahaina Intermediate School students went to the Kihei Wastewater Reclamation Facility. The Wastewater Facilities Program is responsible for the management, operation, maintenance and repair of all county wastewater and pumping facilities in order to provide the consistent and reliable level of performance necessary to protect public health and the environment.

“We learned that it takes a lot of civil engineers to complete the cycle of how to clean water,” said eighth-grader Sosefina Riley. “The water purifying process that is performed every day to ensure clean water for the community is remarkable!”

“I really appreciate that MEDB and WIT are trying to help girls get opportunities for better jobs,” said Riley. “IGED gave us more information about what engineering is. Engineers invent, design and create practical solutions to common, and not so common, problems using mathematics and scientific principles. They help create solutions for society’s needs, and they put public health, safety and welfare above all.”

Eighth-grader Kahealani Garcia agreed. “It is so interesting to see how the polluted wastewater is treated from the beginning, and then it’s totally clean,” she exclaimed. “We learned how the sewage goes from our homes, to the Wastewater Reclamation Facility, and then is changed to the final product: high-quality recycled water and bio-solids used in producing compost.”

“Additionally, we were told some of the ways the community can help,” said Garcia. “Do not dispose grease down sink drains. Do not flush dryer sheets, medications, household detergents and other things that can clog the sewer.”

IGAD was also a big hit. “I thought it was a valuable trip for the students who visited the telescopes on Haleakala,” said Tom Norton, technology coordinator at Lahaina Intermediate School. “They were able to see that there are a variety of jobs available in engineering and astronomy that would possibly allow them to work on Maui, or statewide, if they chose.”

During IGAD, the students formed groups to tour the four visiting stations. “The first station was the inflatable planetarium, courtesy of Air Force Research Laboratory,” explained Dr. J.D. Armstrong, Maui technology education and outreach specialist, University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy. “The girls climbed into the planetarium through a winding tunnel designed to keep stray light out. Once inside, the projector showed the stars that are up at night, and what the stars look like from different places around the globe.”

The second station was the visit to the 3.67-meter telescope known as the Advanced Electro Optical System (AEOS). Owned by the Department of Defense, AEOS is the United States’ largest optical telescope designed for tracking Earth satellites.

“The operators did what they call a ‘shake and bake,’ which is when the telescope operator dances the telescope around,” noted Dr. Armstrong. “The students were impressed with how fast and how quietly the telescope can move.”

At Boeing, the third station, the students had optics demonstrations and experienced a wind tunnel. “The demonstration was an experiment to try to direct a laser beam around a barrier and into the goal on the other side,” Dr. Armstrong said.

The final station was the Faulkes Telescope North, a two-meter-aperture telescope used by research and education groups around the globe. Owned and operated by Las Cumbres Observatory, this unique worldwide network of robotic telescopes engages students in real science via their computers. They become active participants in a range of astronomical research projects, from observations of the solar system to distant stars and galaxies.

“Students in Hawaii get to use this telescope for their science projects,” Dr. Armstrong explained. “Once logged in, users could use a star chart to see what objects are available to them, point at an interesting bit of sky or type in the name of a target they wish to see.”

Eighth-grader Keeana Villamar explained that the most valuable thing she learned at IGAD was the purpose of constructing mirrors to help make the telescopes function to see objects far away in space.

“This is important because telescopes help us see what we can’t with just our naked eyes,” said Villamar. “It was a great day! I was introduced to something new and interesting, and I hope to apply this information in my future career.”

The goal of both IGED and IGAD was to get the students interested in STEM fields, and the Lahaina Intermediate students agreed that both days were extraordinary.

“I am so grateful to MEDB and WIT for this opportunity to learn about engineering and astronomy,” said eighth-grader Taryn Cabingas. “The most valuable thing I learned today was that we, as the future women of the world, are receiving so many more opportunities than ever before. Now that we have an idea of all the cool things available to us, we can help change the perspectives women have about STEM careers.”