Cultivating the next generation of astronomers

04-Mar-2016

Students from Kapolei High School were selected to receive observation time at one of the world's most powerful telescopes for their scientific research, thanks to the new Maunakea Scholars program. The program grew from a discussion about leveraging educational and community partnerships to infuse schools with opportunity.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​After months of working with their teachers and mentors from the University of Hawaii, four Kapolei High students​ are one step closer to studying the stars from a seat that few get to experience.  

They’ve earned observation tim​e at the​​ Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT), one of the world’s most powerful telescopes atop Maunakea, where they will continue work on their research proposals. 

Students Ashley Cobbs and Nevyn Tyau proposed “Validating or Redefining Mischaracterized Unconfirmed Exoplanets.” Jamie Valdez and David Zerba are working on “Quasars and What They Are Made Of.”  ​

​Waiakea High students will also be submitting their proposals as part of the Maunakea Scholars program and four will be selected to also have observation time. 

​​​​​“These students will have unparalleled research opportunities using some of the world’s greatest scientific instruments, and there’s no telling what amazing discoveries they will achieve,” said Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.  

Getting to this stage has been a journey for the teachers who saw p​otential for an exciting program. The idea began in 2012 during a forum at Gemini Ob​servatory’s Journey Through the Universe Conference. 

​STEM Coordinator Karen Umeda recalls, “The panel consisted of a lens technician, engineer, astronomy professor from UH Hilo and astronomers. They possessed two year, four year, Masters and PhD degrees. But regardless of their level of education, they all clearly loved their jobs and the message was that they were looking to build a community workforce pipeline.” 

The following school year, Umeda was the resource teacher for the Race to the Top’s Telepresence Project that offered distance learning. 

“With the need to support the space sciences from both the school and community standpoint, it was logical to leverage Telepresence capabilities to support student learning in this area,” Umeda noted. 

​​

​ "These students will have unparalleled research opportunities using some of the world’s greatest scientific instruments, and there’s no telling what amazing discoveries they will achieve​." 

- Kathryn Matayoshi, superintendent​​

It took time and perseverance to advance the programs at Kapolei and Waiakea High to a point where students were learning about astrophotography and creating their first images.

Umeda and Kapolei High teacher Naidah Gamurot saw that the students wanted to learn more. This meant solidifying a partnership with CFHT to take student engagement and real-​world application lessons to the next level. This year, the Maunakea Scholars program was launched in partnership with the Hawaii State Department of Education, CFHT and Gemini International Observatory. 

“This program exemplifies STEM Education, engaging students in the application of science, technology, engineering and math within the real world context of space exploration,” said Umeda. “It demonstrates that 'magic' can happen, when great teachers work in tandem with school and community resources to support student learning.”   

As part of the program, select students will visit telescopes at the science reserve on Maunakea, as well as CFHT’s headquarters for a night of remote observing in the telescope control room, watching data stream live from the summit to computer systems in Waimea.  

The Kapolei High winning proposals were up against stiff competition with entries like:      

  • “Type II Supernovae Activity in LIRGs” by Cailee Gonzales;      
  • “D/H Ratios in Comets and Asteroids” by Emily Little;      
  • “A Star’s Magnetic Field Benefiting Discoveries of Exoplanets” by Caitlyn Reid;      
  • “Search for White Holes” by Cuff Villanueva; and     
  • “Determining the Origin of Distinct Images” by Matthew Guhl and Emma Duncan. 

​“Many of these students have already changed as individuals, becoming truly self-motivated and excited by the possibilities of this research,” said Gamurot. 

CFHT Director Doug Simons said “I hope the Maunakea Scholars program can spark inspiration and love of learning that lasts a lifetime for these students, just as my mentors did for me as a kid.”  

The program has also become a dream for the teachers. 

“It is our hope that some of these students will come home upon completing their college careers to assume positions within that workforce pipeline shared in 2012, and become shining examples of what can be achieved in the local community,” says Umeda. “The pipe dream is for at least one of these students to become an engineer or astronomer working at one of the observatories on Maunakea.” ​

For more information about the program, visit http://cfht.hawaii.edu/​.

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