Story courtesy Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CHFT):
The inaugural year of the Maunakea Scholars program came to a close May 24 with summit tours given to several Scholars and teachers from Waiakea and Kapolei High Schools.
The first of its kind, this program provides Hawaii high school students direct access to some of the world's most powerful telescopes. Student proposals were submitted for review and telescope time awarded, much as it is for professional astronomers worldwide.
Mentors are key to this program, providing students with guidance to develop independent astronomy research projects that can be used for credit in their schools as senior projects and science fairs. During the 2015-16 school year, Andreea Petric filled that crucial role for Whitney Aragaki's class at Waiakea High, and at Kapolei High Kelly Blumenthal and Evan Sinukoff served as mentors for Naidah Gamurot's Earth Science class.
Petric, who now works at CFHT as a University of Hawaii-sponsored resident astronomer, was a Gemini science fellow when she mentored Aragaki's class at Waiakea High. Blumenthal and Sinukoff are graduate students with the UH Institute for Astronomy (IFA). Mary Beth Laychak, CFHT's outreach program manager, provided overall coordination and inspiration for the program.
The generosity of the Maunakea Scholar mentors and coordinators is appreciated by the students and captured in a wonderful mahalo video from Gamurot's class.
Emily Little, a student in Gamurot's class, summarized her experiences:
"My experience as a first generation Maunakea Scholar came as a surprise. Ms. Gamurot told our class very nonchalantly that we were submitting telescope proposals, but we never knew it was a big deal until we attended the presentation where the accepted proposals were revealed. Our class was very supportive of each other, so we were able to learn from each other's projects, whether they were accepted or not, and we were very proud of our successful classmates. Working with encouraging and inspiring people from CFHT, IFA, and our community was very fun. We learned a lot from our mentors, Evan and Kelly, whether they were actually teaching the Maunakea Scholars about astronomy or just chatting with some nerdy high schoolers. For myself and many of my classmates, the MKS program opened new doors for us in the form of potential careers in astronomy and similar sciences, or just a really cool hobby for some. I'm extremely proud of my classmates, and as the only junior MKS I am returning next year to carry on their legacy, and will have an advantage in assisting next year's MKS's as well."
During this pilot year the Maunakea Scholars program was a collaboration between the Hawaii State Department of Education, Waiakea and Kapolei High Schools, the UH Institute for Astronomy, Gemini International Observatory, and Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. Next school year we anticipate this program doubling in size, offering even more opportunities for high school students across Hawaii.