Summer research project provides STEM opportunities

Dr. Bariyanga and a UHWO student in the lab

Dr. Bariyanga and a UHWO student in the lab

The University of Hawaiʻi – West Oʻahu is looking for talented and motivated students to participate in the Kikaha Undergraduate Research project – a unique opportunity to create projects that develop and enhance academic and research skills.

The Kikaha Undergraduate Research project encourages UH West Oʻahu students to work in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematical (STEM) related fields. Participants are eligible to receive a stipend of $2000 for completion of their project as well as a chance for additional funding to travel to a local or national conference. The application deadline is April 5, 2017, for the summer 2017 project.

The program is looking for students with a wide variety of educational backgrounds, including but not limited to English, Creative Media, and Hawaiian-Pacific Studies, to participate in a diverse array of research projects such as developing a web-based plant directory, creating lesson plans offered for education outreach groups, determining population dynamics using size-based matrix models, researching how tidal forces affect the physics and the biology in of tidal pools, and working with 3D printing technology to replicate avian bones (see detailed descriptions of potential projects below). Innovative students can also develop their own research projects following consultation with faculty.

A wide variety of STEM related projects will be considered, and about 10 will be supported. Potential projects outlined below invite students to perform hands-on research with close partnership with UH West Oʻahu faculty and  scientists of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge – Kalaeloa Unit.

Those interested should fill out the following form: or contact Dr. Olivia George (, Dr. Megan Ross ( and Dr. Esther Widiasih ( for more information.

Students are encouraged to talk with a faculty member who is currently involved in any STEM-related project to help complete the application package. Students are also encouraged to check with their Financial Aid advisor in regards to receiving the stipend so that their financial aid status is not affected.

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation under the Tribal Colleges and University Program (TCUP).

Potential Projects

Project 1: Web-Based Plant Directory
This research opportunity would contribute to an ongoing effort to create botanical outreach materials for educational purposes. A general plant species list and botanical survey map exist for the Kalaeloa Unit. Students would work with USFWS personnel, and UHWO faculty to collect images, descriptions, and information about cultural uses of native and non-native species found in the Kalaeloa Unit. Students would then conduct research on available data, organize the data, and produce a searchable, web-based plant directory modeled after the Hawai‘i Biological Survey’s “Good Guys & Bad Guys” website maintained by the Bishop Museum.

Project 2: Development of Place-Based Educational Units
This research opportunity would contribute new education modules to the growing repertoire of lesson plans offered for education outreach groups visiting the Kalaeloa Unit. Students would work with the ‘Ilima Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), USFWS, and UHWO faculty to produce a new educational module for use at the Kalaeloa Unit.

Students will be trained to present the existing education stations and then will select a topic, develop and test a lesson plan, and compile materials to train educators and volunteers to present their lesson plan.

Project 3: Size-based demographic model of ‘ōpae ‘ula shrimp
This research opportunity will construct a model of ‘ōpae ‘ula population dynamics using size-based matrix models. Tiny ‘ōpae ‘ula appear to spend their entire lives in the anchialine pools, but their full life cycle is a mystery. Females with eggs, and larvae are not readily observed within the pool. It is not known where and when females go when carrying eggs and how larvae move between the pools. Age is correlated with size in crustaceans. In other words, a smaller shrimp is younger than a larger shrimp. By looking at the relative number of shrimp of different sizes, we can determine when a batch of new shrimp arrive in the pools. By observing the relative abundance of shrimp in different size classes over time, we can estimate when reproduction is occurring, determine size class structure, and potentially estimate how often females are reproducing over a given period of time. Students will work with the USFWS, the Division of Aquatic Resources, and UHWO faculty to collect data on shrimp abundance, and size class in the field and learn how to construct numerical models to help determine when ‘ōpae ‘ula reproduce and how many shrimp of different ages survive over a given time period.

Project 4: Study on correlation of anchialine pools with tide
This research opportunity will contribute to understanding the connection between the ocean activity and the biology and the physics of the anchialine pools. Anchialine pools at the Kalaeloa Unit are connected to both the ground water source and the ocean. This unique setting results in a large variation of salinity in the pools, the home of the Hawaiian shrimp, ‘opae‘ula. Being connected to the ocean, the pools rise and fall with the tides. It is not yet clear however, how the tidal forces affect the physics and the biology in the pools.

A student researcher working on this project will work with the USFWS staff and faculty in collecting data on the physical and biological attributes of the pools, at least once a week, for at least two moon cycles (including new moon and full moon). This project will include surveys during both the day and night hours. Furthermore, the student will work making the data available for further research, analyzing the data, and produce a project presentation.

Project 5: Avian fossils and 3D printing
This research opportunity will contribute to the organization and presentation of the avian fossils as well as to the creation of tangible replica of the fossils.

Rare fossilized avian bones were discovered when USFWS scientists worked on coastal habitat restoration at the Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge Kalaeloa Unit.

USFWS has worked with the Smithsonian Institution and Bernice P. Bishop Museum to properly clean, store, and preserve the bones, as well as to identify and catalog the recently discovered fossils. However, there is still further work to be done, including working with the Bishop museum to create a display, and documentation linking to the history of the region. Furthermore, with the recent advance in 3D printing technology, replica of the bones could be created and used for educational purposes. A student researcher in this project will work with the USFWS and Bishop Museum representatives researching the paleontological aspects of the fossils, and work with UHWO faculty to run and create the algorithm to reproduce a 3D printing of the various avian bones fossils, and finally, work to produce a report documenting the process of the project.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge – Kalaeloa Unit

The Kalaeloa Unit of the Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2001 to protect native plant species identified during military base closure proceedings. Much of the vegetation at the Kalaeloa Unit consists of non-native grasses and, until their recent removal, kiawe trees. Despite the high abundance of non-native species, there are still many native plants within the Unit including two endangered species ‘Ewa hinahina and ‘Akoko.

The Kalaeloa Unit is also home to 14 anchialine pools. Anchialine pools are enclosed, in-shore pools of water with an underground connection to the ocean. Pools are filled by a combination of fresh groundwater and ocean water. Therefore, they are often brackish with a lower salinity than the ocean, and a higher salinity than the fresh groundwater. Because the pools are connected to the ocean, their water level rises and falls with the tide and organisms within the pools may move freely between pools. In Hawai‘i, anchialine pools are home to tiny red shrimp called ‘opae‘ula.

Environmental Education and community outreach highlighting the diverse native communities
of terrestrial plants and in anchialine ponds is a priority at the Kalaeloa Unit. Dr. Healani Chang with the ‘Ilima chapter of SACNAS works in partnership with USFWS to coordinate outreach events and develop educational modules showcasing native plants, opae ula shrimp, fossilized avian bones and the unique hydrology of Kalaeloa.

Image courtesy of UHWO Staff