WAILEA - At $150 a pop, Maui Economic Development Board sold out all 700 tickets to its 30th annual benefit Saturday to support science, technology, engineering and math programs as well as emerging high-tech companies on the Valley Isle.
The nonprofit's Ke Alahele Education Fund benefit dinner and auction at the Grand Wailea included a robotics challenge, reception and silent auction. A live auction followed dinner. U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and Mayor Alan Arakawa also spoke.
The Maui Economic Development Board raised $338,046, the most ever for the event, said MEDB President and Chief Executive Officer Jeanne Skog.
First Photo: U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and his wife, Irene Hirano, listen to Kihei Charter School student Kai Sears as he explains how he uses iPads to explore lessons in renewable energy. Sears and his classmates were amongst several groups with exhibits at Maui Economic Development Board’s Ke Alahele Education Fund dinner Saturday at the Grand Wailea.
JOSE MORALES photo
In order to increase support for numerous STEM programs, or workforce development, the board established the Ke Alahele Education Fund in 2006.
"One of the most important things about this work is it gives our students hope for their future," said retired Maui High School Principal Randy Yamanuha. "That's good for them and good for Maui."
MEDB's goal is to assist local businesses in establishing themselves or expanding for a stronger, more diversified economy across Maui. And having a capable workforce at hand is key to that goal, the board's supporters said.
The organization is probably best known for its umbrella program, Women in Technology. Skog said that while the program works to build up girls' science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM skills, over the years its focus has expanded to include boys, adults and nontraditional students who typically go underrepresented in STEM fields.
"A rising tide raises all boats," Skog said.
Across the United States, communities have been trying for years to address a lack of American STEM professionals compared with other developed countries.
Skog said money raised Saturday will not only go toward the education fund but also for grants that assist technology businesses. MEDB helps manage the Maui Research & Technology Park in Kihei, which acts as a tech business incubator site.
The nonprofit has been supported by county, state and federal funding. The education fund allows residents to invest in the community's future, Skog said.
In addition to education, the organization offers marketing campaigns and oversees a community-wide economic visioning process. MEDB provides local businesses with workshops, counseling and other events to assist local entrepreneurs and growing firms.
Ke Alahele programs are aimed at not only helping people find careers in those companies, but also exist to help former students come back to Maui to head a tech firm or start their own, Skog said.
And it's happening, supporters said.
Yamanuha said MEDB helped his campus create an award-winning "STEMworks" program a decade ago that places students on a comprehensive career path. They get the education and access to technology, mentoring, internships, job shadowing and networking - sometimes internationally. They also use critical thinking and practice group dynamics, such as belonging to a robotics team, he said. Yamanuha said being part of a team is very important in today's business world.
The programs have even trickled down to the elementary school level, Yamanuha said.
"A lot of the careers that these students will have don't even exist yet," he said of the opportunities ahead.
And Maui High never would have been able to provide this kind of programming without MEDB.
Today, MEDB's programs assist about 21,000 students, teachers and businesses annually, Skog said. The nonprofit was instrumental in building the tech park, the creation of which was one of its goals when Maui County helped establish it in 1982.
MEDB's reach appears to have grown as long as its list of programs and partners.
One partner is T.K. Lee, program manager for Maui's Pacific Joint Information Technology Center. He said the venture receives critical support from MEDB.
Meanwhile, Skog raved about Pacific JITC's help and the future potential when a "major federal program" comes here for research and development.
The center assists the U.S. Department of Defense with medical readiness at home and in combat and modernizing information technology. Pacific JITC also has a lab, which tests software designed to make sure injured soldiers are getting the best care possible, Lee said.
Skog said she is looking forward to the next 30 years.
For more information, go online to www.medb.org.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com.