When you're reaching for the stars, there's nothing quite like a booster rocket to get you there faster.
For 18 students from around Hawaii - including three in the University of Hawaii Maui College's Electronic and Computer Engineering Technology program - the booster is the Akamai Workforce Initiative Internship Program.
Two of the Maui students assigned to a seven-week project at Pacific Defense Solutions LLC have been rewarded for their hard work through the Akamai internship with part-time positions at the Maui-based technology company as they continue to pursue their degrees, converting their internships into earn-while-you-learn jobs. PDS specializes in complex optical systems and advanced image processing.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Interns Laurie Hozaki and Chad Nagata, both University of Hawaii Maui College students, assemble a satellite-tracking telescope Friday afternoon in Kihei. The 8-inch mirror telescope is equipped with a fast-frame camera and tracking system that allows it to locate and photograph satellites as they pass over Maui.
"They impressed me a lot with their work ethic. They were willing to learn, and they learned quickly," said Daron Nishimoto, PDS adviser to Akamai interns Laurie Hozaki and Chad Nagata.
"They displayed good teamwork, supporting each other every day they were working together. They paid attention to detail, and they got good data. I was really impressed."
Funded by the National Science Foundation, Center for Adaptive Optics and the University of Hawaii, the Akamai Workforce Initiative aims to prepare Hawaii students for careers in electronics, optics and related fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Since its inception in 2003, Akamai internships have supported more than 150 students, of which a third have been women and 70 percent were from a minority group ranked as underrepresented in technology fields. Not coincidentally, a mentor with Pacific Defense Solutions for Hozaki and Nagata was Kawai Kuluhiwa, a Native Hawaiian woman and original Akamai intern who went on to earn her Bachelor of Science in astronomy.
A third Electronic and Computer Engineering Technology student at UH-Maui College, Bryan Baello, was assigned to the UH Institute for Astronomy for an internship on preparing light-gathering mirror surfaces for telescopes.
All were present for the culmination of the 2010 Akamai Internship, a symposium held at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa on Aug. 6, during which each intern was required to do a presentation on the work performed.
Hozaki's presentation, "Building a daytime satellite-tracking telescope system - camera system integration," dealt with the technology of setting up camera systems to identify and track debris from the Iridium-Cosmos satellite collision in 2009. Nagata's presentation, "Tracking a rogue satellite (Galaxy 15) for photometric and positional information," dealt with configurations for an optical system to locate and track a malfunctioning communications satellite.
The two students benefited from having similar projects that allowed them to collaborate on developing solutions, with PDS providing an opportunity to succeed.
They also were provided opportunities by studying at home at UH-Maui College. Hozaki and Nagata said they initially went to Mainland schools but returned home after the first year. Costs were a major issue, although Hozaki added that she changed her mind about her original interest in video game design.
"I always kind of liked video games," she said. Tracking satellites and space debris can be a lot like speeding through a video game, but there is a major difference.
"We're now working in real time using computer and optical systems that are following objects in space. I learned there are more than 25,000 big objects out there. I never knew that. We were tracking a few satellites in different orbits."
A lot of satellites and objects, actually.
"Our research was actually doing a survey of what's out there orbiting around Earth," Nagata said.
Nagata said he intended to major in computer engineering, and liked math and science in high school, but the cost of his first year at Washington State University brought him back to UH-Maui College for the Electronic and Computer Engineering Technology program as a more realistic option.
Both said they will consider the Bachelor of Applied Science in engineering technology offered at UH-MC, although both still have a year to go to complete work on their associate in applied science degrees in electronics and computer engineering technology.
Baello, who enrolled at UH-Maui College for the electronic and computer engineering option, said he expects to continue in the program for a Bachelor of Applied Science in engineering technology. His presentation was on "Controlling an electron beam to polish mirrors."
Born in the Philippines and raised in Minnesota, he said he wanted to relocate to Maui.
"I had a high interest in electronics. I've always wanted to know how things worked," he said.
Most Akamai interns can't take advantage of immediate work offers since most are in school away from Maui. Of the 15 other interns in the 2010 program, eight are in school on the Mainland and seven are at University of Hawaii campuses on Oahu or Hilo. All are majoring in engineering, computer engineering or related science and technology fields.
While it's rare for Akamai interns to be offered continuing positions, it's not unusual for an internship to result in future employment, Akamai officials said. In offering the positions to the students, as well as having Kuluhiwa on its staff, Pacific Defense Solutions was highlighted as a Maui-based technology company that fully supports the goals of the Akamai Workforce Initiative of providing career opportunities in Hawaii.
Hozaki and Nagata said the electronic and computer engineering curriculum was a foundation, but much of their work with PDS required them to learn on the job. The Akamai internships include a one-week training session before the students go to their seven-week assignments, where they conduct research under guidance of mentors provided by the companies. Interns receive a stipend for the eight-week program.
The Akamai Workforce Initiative was created specifically to provide training in high-technology career fields for Hawaii students, particularly students who must overcome barriers to their educational goals such as family income or as an underrepresented minority in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
More information on the Akamai program can be found online at kopiko.ifa.hawaii. edu/akamai/.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor for The Maui News who is temporarily assisting in the marketing office at UH-Maui College.
* Internship program. The Akamai Workforce Initiative is supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the University of Hawaii. It is led by the UH Institute for Astronomy on Maui in partnership with UH-Maui College and the University of California at Santa Cruz. A story on Page A3 Monday had incomplete information on sponsorship of the Akamai internship program.