Aiea High School Class of 2016 graduate Perry Arrasmith will be the first to say that he doesn't think of himself as a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) type of student. However, he sees the lessons in STEM as window of opportunities.
For his senior capstone project, Perry focused on the photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roofs of Aiea High.
With the support of teachers and Principal Kim Sanders, Perry contacted the team at the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) to see how the project was being done.
Aiea was one of the first schools in the state to receive PV panels and Perry wondered if more could be added. However, he learned about the restrictions in how much PV generation due to utility limitations. Perry was forced to find a new direction for his project.
"When I first started out with my project I was really interested in how schools were using solar energy," Perry said. "When I was put in touch with Mr. Sucuma Elliot (Auxiliary Services Branch, engineer), he told me about a pilot program he was working on involving LED lights."
Elliot showed Perry the project at McKinley High School that is replacing four lights in the parking lot with LED.
"I actually did a comparison with how much money could be saved and I found out that just by switching out the four lights with LEDs you'd save about $500. So I thought why can't Aiea High School do the same thing?" Perry said.
The Aiea student met with Elliot and tried to figure out where the light switch could make the biggest differences. He had to hunt for layout drawings and plans and look at swapping out the right types of lights.
While the capstone project was self-directed, Perry credits Elliot with being a mentor to help him understand the engineering and ways the state system operated.
"He provided me with a lot of guidance because he knew how the system worked," said Perry. "The first time he came he brought electric bills and spent the time talking for two hours on how the grid works and it was really eye opening."
Inspired by Perry's interest, HIDOE will be installing the four lights on the outside of Aiea High School's cafeteria.
The Office of School Facilities and Support Services has invited Perry to assist in a sustainability presentation at this year's Educational Leadership Institute conference before principals, vice principals and educational officers.
The newly graduated Aiea alum credits his principal and STEM teachers, Dr. Susan Gonsalves and Ken Kang, for supporting his direction.
"Perry is wise beyond his years and is thoughtful in his speaking and writing," Principal Sanders said. "He is not one to represent an idea without doing the research to back it. He is driven to use integrity, respect, and caring when making a decision. Problem solving is another one of Perry's strengths; he doesn't waste time and works well in teaming situations. As a principal, I wish we could have more students like Perry around the campus because of his dedication to learning."
In September, Perry will head to the East Coast to attend Harvard. It was a tough choice having also been accepted to Princeton, Brown and Columbia. He has a passion for public service. Perry finished his high school career as student body vice president and head of a civics club that focused on registering new voters at the school.
While he has concentrated on the functions of public service, Perry said his STEM project showed him the importance of such subjects in government.
"STEM was really out there for me," he said laughing. "I knew that government is not one thing. (This project) showed me how math and science is a part of government."