Maunakea Scholars program launches scholarship, online dual credit course


Honoka‘a High senior Keilani Steele is the inaugural recipient of the Hōkūala Scholarship — $10,000 to attend the college of her choice in pursuit of an astronomy degree. It was made possible by the Maunakea Scholars program, which also announced a dual credit opportunity for Hawaii Island partner schools to participate in a free online astronomy class starting this school year.

​HILO, HAWAI‘I – Honoka‘a High School senior Keilani Steele is the first Maunakea Scholar to be awarded the new Hōkūala Scholarship: $10,000 to attend the college of her choice in pursuit of an astronomy degree. 

At a Maunakea Speakers presentation at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center July 19, Steele was on stage to present her leading-edge research enabled by the Maunakea Scholars program. Keilani received an observing run at the Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope last year and recently finished another observing run at W. M. Keck Observatory — research opportunities professional astronomers compete for worldwide. She is now preparing for her first year of college to advance her ambitions to be an astronomer. 

The program paused for a set of surprise announcements including new additions to the community of supporters collaborating to advance educational opportunities for local students interested in pursuing astronomy. 

  • The $10,000 Hōkūala (rising star) Scholarship is the latest addition to the Maunakea Scholars program. This scholarship will be awarded annually to one or more top performing seniors in the Maunakea Scholars program who are going on to study astronomy in college. For students attending the University of Hawaii, the scholarship award also includes a commitment of mentorship by a leader in Maunakea astronomy throughout each recipient’s undergraduate education.  
  • The Maunakea Scholars program is now partnering with the University of Hawai‘i’s Mānoa Academy. Starting in the 2018-19 school year, high school students attending Hawai‘i Island schools hosting the Maunakea Scholars program will be able to take, at no cost, UH online astronomy courses, receiving college credit in the process. A $50,000 grant from Hawai‘i Community Foundation is enabling this exciting expansion of the Maunakea Scholars program.
  • The Paul H.I. Coleman Endowed Scholarship for Astronomy, established by Newton and Roberta Chu with a $35,000 gift to the University of Hawai‘i Foundation, honors the late astronomer Paul Coleman, the first Native Hawaiian with a doctorate in physics and beloved member of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Institute for Astronomy (IfA) faculty. The scholarship in his memory will support students pursuing degrees in astronomy within the University of Hawai‘i system.  

Maunakea Scholars is unique in the world; the program grants Hawai‘i public high school students access to the world’s most powerful collection of telescopes. Now entering its fourth year, the Maunakea Scholars program is working with the community to create a pathway for local students to take advantage of the best telescopes on the best site for astronomy on earth — Maunakea — and grow into rewarding careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). Through these initiatives and more, Hawai‘i is literally creating a generation of explorers that will help unlock the mysteries of the universe. 

“I’m ecstatic to be awarded the Hōkūala scholarship. This scholarship gives me and students like to me the ability to pursue our college dreams,” said Steele.

Steele was selected for the first Hōkūala Scholarship because of her extraordinary work as a junior and senior at Honoka‘a High School in the Maunakea Scholars program. During the 2016-17 school year, through observations at CFHT, Keilani Steele and Hoku Sanchez discovered a new Herbig Haro object (a forming star) during their study of dark nebulae. Steele submitted a follow-up observing proposal during the 2017-18 school year to explore the nature of dark matter through measurements of the motions of stars in the gravitational influence of dark matter. The nearby dwarf Draco galaxy is a “dark matter laboratory,” so she acquired data on stars in that faint galaxy at Keck Observatory using their DEIMOS multi-object spectrometer. These measurements of the motions of stars in the Draco dwarf galaxy will allow her to determine the dark matter content of this elusive object. The data acquired could serve as the basis for her undergraduate research efforts and, from there, a very bright future in astronomy. 

For more information about the Maunakea Scholars and astronomy opportunities for students, visit

About the Maunakea Observatories 
The Maunakea Observatories are a collaboration of independent institutions with telescopes located on Maunakea on the island of Hawai‘i. Together, the Observatories make Maunakea the most scientifically productive site for astronomy world-wide. The Maunakea Observatories include: Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope, Gemini International Observatory, James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (EAO), NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, Subaru Telescope, Submillimeter Array, United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, University of Hawai'i Hilo Educational Telescope, University of Hawai‘i 2.2 Meter Telescope, Very Long Baseline Array and W. M. Keck Observatory (Keck I and Keck II).

About Maunakea Scholars
Maunakea Scholars is a collaborative agreement between the Hawaii DOE, the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy, and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope to develop more opportunities for local high school students to use Maunakea Observatories for their innovative research projects. Learn more.

Contact Information

Hilary Denison, Bennet Group

Phone: 808-753-5714



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