KAHULUI - The National Science Foundation will sponsor a $20 million award for science study benefiting Native Hawaiian students at the University of Hawaii Maui College.
The grant is part of a mitigation plan offered by developers of the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope at the summit of Haleakala. Through the program, the NSF will distribute $2 million a year for 10 years for programs and scholarships, Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto said. U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye announced the program's funding at a "launch celebration" for the college last month. In addition to celebrating the college's new name, the event was meant to recognize UH-MC's increasing focus on four-year degrees, Sakamoto said.
College special projects coordinator Susan Wyche said the scholarships were part of their proposal to the NSF for what they called, "Akeakamai I Ka La Hiki Ola (AIK): Scientific Exploration Beneath the Life-Bringing Sun."
Distribution of the grant money takes effect immediately, she said.
"This program is going to have a big impact on Maui," Wyche said. "It's much bigger than just the telescope."
An important aspect of the program would be to direct funding toward island high schools as well, expanding their offerings of science and math options, she said
The program on Maui also includes development of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, coursework in the Hawaiian language. It also seeks to connect the Native Hawaiian students to cultural leaders, family members, older students, the community and prospective employers.
"The complex social and environmental issues that confront the Hawaiian Islands require that the next generation of leaders be conversant in both science and culture," Sakamoto said. "Our hope is that these funds will provide an opportunity to bring STEM scientists, Native Hawaiian cultural and educational resources together to create a cohort of future leaders."
Wyche said the program still needs to undergo some more planning and hiring, but she hopes for it to start this spring. Dozens of students could be eligible initially, she said.
And Wyche said that in five years they want to double the number of additional UH-Maui College students following the STEM graduation track - hopefully into the hundreds. She said the "AIK" program will not be a specialized degree, just a way of supporting the STEM curriculums.
The program could help students get internships at the telescope and eventually find careers there, but it could also open opportunities for employment in science and technology fields across the globe, Sakamoto said.
Once built, the solar telescope will be the largest of its kind on Earth and will be able to study electrical storms and other phenomena caused by the sun. But the project at the UH Institute for Astronomy site is opposed by a number of Native Hawaiian groups and Haleakala National Park lovers.
A contested case hearing officer recently finished reviewing arguments from supporters and opponents of the telescope, and will issue a report to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, which will decide whether the project can move forward, said Mike Maberry of the Institute for Astronomy.
Maberry said this is the first NSF astronomy scholarship in Hawaii and the largest in its history.
UH-Maui College associate professor of Hawaiian Studies Kiope Raymond is a member of Kilakila O Haleakala, a group opposing the telescope's construction.
When asked about the new program during the July hearing, Raymond testified: "It does not matter if a few Hawaiians think that a few other Hawaiians will benefit. The overwhelming majority of Hawaiians believe it will have long-term, major, adverse impacts."
Raymond emphasized, though, that his primary objection is to the location of the telescope on sacred ground.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com.