The Hawai‘i State Department of Education dedicated its first research-grade space observatory Monday evening at Waipahu High School through the generous support of the McInerny Foundation. The foundation donated over $200,000 to purchase and install a 17-inch telescope and 12.5-foot dome housing on the Waipahu campus that will help encourage student interest in STEM-related careers.
"With the rapidly changing world, we know that the sky is the limit now with the learning and the opportunities that our students aspire to being lifted higher and higher each and every day. Tonight we are making history,"
Gov. David Ige said.
The observatory will support students enrolled in the school’s college-level Astronomy (ASTR) 295 course through Waipahu’s Early College program with Leeward Community College. The dual credit program allows students to take classes that satisfy requirements for both a high school diploma and a University of Hawaii degree. The McInerny Foundation is credited for supporting Waipahu High School’s Early College initiative with $2.65 million in funding over the past decade.
Since the program’s inception in 2012, Waipahu students in ASTR 295 have made outstanding contributions to the science and astronomy community, including three student-written publications in the peer-reviewed Journal of Double Star Observations. More recently, four ASTR 295 students were commended for their research and granted access to some of Hawai‘i’s leading technology at the Maunakea Observatories.
The newly installed telescope is designed to be operated remotely, allowing Waipahu’s Early College astronomy students to collaborate on joint research projects with teams throughout the state, country and globe. Using controls that can be administered from any device with internet access, students are able to observe and capture photographs of outer space in color and infrared through cameras used by weather stations.
“This observatory is just one of the many things happening here at Waipahu High School. I think there's going to be a lot more energy moving forward as we leverage this learning to extend beyond our wildest dreams in helping to connect our students through STEM and astronomical learning," Superintendent Keith Hayashi said.
“Building this observatory is very monumental– not only to Waipahu but to giving students an opportunity to explore astronomy like I did,” said Zachary Tamboa, one of Waipahu’s ASTR 295 students who was published in a peer-reviewed journal. “I got to explore astronomy through the class and the creation of this observatory will allow us to further our research and provide outreach to new people, new astronomers.”
For precautionary safety measures, the observatory was strategically installed on a building rooftop that does not overhang any classrooms and is controlled remotely. The selected location experiences the least amount of light pollution on campus.
The Early College initiative celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer. Throughout the last decade, Introduction to Astronomy (ASTR 110) remains one of the most popular science courses the program offers.