Students discover career options at the bottom of petri dishes

24-Jul-2015

Waipahu High students showcased their summertime research at the school's first annual Science Scholars Program Symposium. Using distance learning tools, they collaborated with Rutgers University scientists who reviewed student data and provided immediate feedback. Teacher Michael Sana, who secured funding for the program, hopes to see more schools join. "It truly engages the student's natural curiosity to solve the unknown."

Waipahu High science symposium

Students involved in the five-week summer Molecular Biological Research Program showcased their graduate-level work at Waipahu High.

Careers in molecular biology or biotechnology were not a career interest for the 40 Waipahu High juniors and seniors who were participants in a five-week summer Molecular Biological Research Program. That was until they dove into graduate-level scientific research. Now many of them profess a newfound love for science and more career options.

“I wanted to be a nurse or the medical part of being a crime scene investigator, but after taking this program I want to be a medical lab technician,” said Andrew Eliazar, a transfer student from St. Francis who will be a junior next school year. We caught up with students like Andrew at the first annual Waipahu High Science Scholars Program Symposium where they shared their research findings with family members and honored guests.

The program involved isolating and identifying unknown proteins from duckweed, a fresh-water aquatic plant often found in Wahiawa’s Lake Wilson, to see how its genes compare with genes in other species. Duckweed is of interest to the scientific community because of its use in bioremediation, and its potential use as biofuel.

Students worked with research scientists from Rutgers University through distance learning tools such as a DNA Sequencing Analysis Program (DSAP), which allowed research scientists to review student data and send immediate feedback.

Deserie Pagatpatan, an upcoming junior, discovered a rare Heat Shock Factor-Binding 1-Like Protein that could have significant impact on cancer research. She said that she also wanted to be a registered nurse before starting the program but now would like to do biotechnology cancer research. She plans to conduct future research to see how the protein is involved in anti-cancer immunotherapy.

Jeminae Solomua, also class of 2017, added, “This experience impacted me so much. I’m thinking about becoming a biotech engineer, but before that I wanted to become a doctor, so I’m really torn between the two.”


"Students learn cutting edge technology and laboratory skills that can set them up for future internships and work in entry-level lab technician jobs. By offering this program,
students will be encouraged to pursue science as a career option and not be afraid to challenge themselves or feel they are inferior because they lack the skills to succeed in science."

— Michael Sana, science department chair, Waipahu High


Solomua’s mother, Lani, who is a Waipahu High alumna, was one of the proud parents at the symposium. “I learned something today,” she said. “I wish we had this when we were in school.” The program was made possible through a generous grant from the Public Schools of Hawaii Foundation (PSHF). The organization has awarded nearly $4 million to creative and innovative teacher projects since 1991.

“Based on this experience, it was really positive,” said Ken Hiraki, a PSHF board member. “The key is having a principal that supports these types of programs, but also finding that special teacher willing to spend his or her summer dedicated to these student.”

Michael Sana, a teacher and science department chair at Waipahu High, taught the summer course. He was instrumental in securing funding, which paid for students’ tuition and materials, and would like to see more Hawaii schools participating in the program.

“It would be great to have more schools involved in this authentic molecular biology research project,” said Sana. “It truly engages the student's natural curiosity to solve the unknown. In the process, students learn cutting edge technology and laboratory skills that can set them up for future internships and work in entry-level lab technician jobs. By offering this program, students will be encouraged to pursue science as a career option and not be afraid to challenge themselves or feel they are inferior because they lack the skills to succeed in science.”

“It is my hope that the program can expand to other schools,” he added. “Hopefully, we can continue to have a Science Scholars Symposium every year to showcase the work that is done by our students.”

Principal Keith Hayashi added that Waipahu High was the only Hawaii school to participate in this national program, joining 74 other schools from New Jersey, Maryland, Texas and California.

The most exciting part about this program, he said, is that the students will be published alongside the names of Rutgers University research scientists on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website.

Juniors Jommel Macaraeg and Michael Castillo will continue their research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory this month. Look out for a future story on their experience there!

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