Building STEM Pathways to UH West Oʻahu

Tom Penna addresses a group at Pūkoʻa Kani ʻĀina – a project that helps bring UH West Oʻahu faculty, high schools counselors, community college advisors, and other community members to strengthen their partnerships and develop best practices in supporting Native Hawaiian students in STEM.

At “Pūkoʻa Kani ʻĀina: Building STEM Pathways to UH West Oʻahu,” Tom Penna lectured on the “Movement of Time.” His presentation allowed participants to explore the idea of traditional time and how it connects to places, science, health and the individual.

Gathering vital insight into how best to serve Native Hawaiian students interested in STEM careers in Leeward Oʻahu and developing a STEM ecosystem within the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu were among the goals at “Pūkoʻa Kani ʻĀina: Building STEM Pathways to UH West Oʻahu,” an event held Nov. 15 on campus.

The Pūkoʻa Kani ʻĀina project funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Tribal Colleges and Universities Program provides an opportunity to build a transdisciplinary, sustainable STEM ecosystem within the university by bringing UH West Oʻahu STEM faculty together with community partners from high schools to community colleges to form several “Communities of Practice” (CoP) centered around themes, such as identifying indigenous fundamentals in science and designing effective summer bridge programs.

The nearly $2.5 million NSF grant will help UH West Oʻahu improve college readiness and success for Native Hawaiian high school and college students and provide them with STEM learning opportunities.

Portrait photo of a woman in a blue top, posed infront of the library building

Dr. Megan Ross

Portrait photo of Dr. Kamuela Yong. He is wearing a blue on blue aloha shirt. The background is the library building

Dr. Kamuela Yong

The “Pūkoʻa Kani ʻĀina: Building STEM Pathways to UH West Oʻahu” event was held to align with the goals of the grant, said Dr. Kamuela Yong, assistant professor of mathematics at UH West Oʻahu. The Pūkoʻa Kani ʻĀina project is led by both Yong and Dr. Megan Ross, assistant professor of biology at UH West Oʻahu.

“This is an exciting time for STEM at UH West Oʻahu,” Yong said. “The Mathematics, Natural and Health Sciences (MNHS) Division was formed, the B.S. in Natural Science degree was established, and we received this NSF grant – all within the last year. We know there are many people on campus that do STEM-related work who are not in the MNHS Division, so this convening helped develop a STEM ecosystem and brought people together for the first time.”

Participants at the event broke up into various groups to discuss the CoPsʻ six main themes:

  • What are indigenous fundamentals in science?
  • Overcoming challenges to recruitment
  • Integrating best practices for retention of Native Hawaiian students in STEM
  • Bridge to success: Designing effective summer programs
  • Course design: Infuse ike Hawaii to promote student success
  • Vision for the future of UH West Oʻahu STEM degree programs

“One of the major objectives of our Pūkoʻa Kani ʻĀina NSF grant is to build and strengthen pathways to our new B.S. in Natural Science degree,” Yong added. “We brought in representatives from community colleges and high schools to learn about our new degree and establish a pipeline into UH West Oʻahu.”

Group of faculty and staff listening to a presentation by Tom Penna. Group of faculty and staff listening to a presentation by Tom Penna.

“Pūkoʻa Kani ʻĀina: Building STEM Pathways to UH West Oʻahu” welcomed nearly 80 participants, including MNHS Division faculty, faculty from other divisions and various staff on campus. There was also representation from Windward, Leeward, Kapiʻolani and Kauaʻi community colleges, as well as various high schools and community partners.

Activities at the event also included opportunities to share and learn from other’s experiences teaching in STEM, as well as professional development opportunities.