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Scholarships honor Uncle Skippy Hau

Biologist dedicates decades of life to native stream life

Mauian Tahiti Ahsam talks with Skippy Hau, Wailuku-based biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources who taught her about native species and stream life. Ahsam was one of two recipients Thursday of the inaugural Uncle Skippy Hau — Na Wai ‘Eha College Scholarship. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

WAILUKU — A new scholarship helps Native Hawaiian students while recognizing a local biologist who gives a voice to the voiceless.

The inaugural Uncle Skippy Hau — Na Wai ‘Eha College Scholarship of $1,000 each was given Thursday to Mauians Quinn Shiraishi and Tahiti Ahsam at Kepaniwai Park.

The scholarship is named after Hau, a local biologist who’s worked with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources for nearly 35 years and teaches about native stream animals including opae (shrimp), hihiwai (snail) and ‘o’opu (a fish), at Maui schools.

“He has dedicated his life to saving native aquatic species, things that don’t have a voice,” said Hui o Na Wai ‘Eha Board President Hokuao Pellegrino.

“He doesn’t speak up much, but if you get him talking about his passion, it goes on and on. He is such a humble person.”

University of Hawaii at Hilo student Tahiti Ahsam embraces Hokuao Pellegrino, Hui o Na Wai ‘Eha board president, after being presented one of two inaugural Uncle Skippy Hau — Na Wai ‘Eha College Scholarship awards of $1,000 Thursday at Kepaniwai Park. Quinn Shiraishi, junior at Colorado State University, received the other scholarship. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

After Thursday’s presentation, Hau said he appreciated the recognition.

“I feel honored,” he said.

Pellegrino said Hui members decided to name the scholarship after a living leader so he or she could participate in the “full circle” process of teaching and awarding students. Hau was not part of the selection committee, though.

Nineteen students applied online for the scholarships, Pellegrino said, adding that choosing two was “very, very difficult.” Requirements included being Native Hawaiian, a full-time college student with a minimum grade point average and studying a field with ties to natural and cultural resource management.

Shiraishi is a junior at Colorado State University and studying environmental science. Ahsam, a freshman at University of Hawaii at Hilo, is pursuing Hawaiian language and culture studies.

Ahsam on Thursday said she was grateful that the Hui and Hau teach the importance of stream life.

“I always trip out,” she said. “I remember when (the river) wasn’t running. Uncle Skippy had to do all that work just so he could help save the species. I like that I get to meet Uncle Skippy again.”

Pellegrino said the Hui has already raised money for next year’s scholarship. For information, visit www.huionawaieha.org.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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