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Hawaiʻi STEM Conference Empowers Students to Make a Difference

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Students explored the latest technologies, including Microsoft’s VR and mixed reality demonstrations in the high-energy Interactive Playground. Photo Courtesy: STEMworks.

During his keynote presentation, Nainoa Thompson addressed the over 1,000 students and teachers who attended the Hawaiʻi STEM Conference: “You have the power… You are the wave of change and Hawaiʻi is the best place because of you.” Photo Courtesy: STEMworks.

During high-energy 5×5 networking session, students had an opportunity to meet STEM professionals and ask them about college and career pathways, personal experiences, advice and more. Photo Courtesy: STEMworks.

A total of 38 immersive sessions were available for students during the 2019 Hawaiʻi STEM Conference held on May 1 & 2 at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center on Oahu. Photo Courtesy: STEMworks.

The team from O Hina I Ka Malama Kula Kiekie Molokai High School perform their song “Fishes in the Sea” during the Voyaging Song Challenge. Pictured left to right: Ioane Sibayan, Ikaia Purdy, Laulea Kekahuna, Poepoe Mollena, and Pueo Akina-Sumarnap. Photo Courtesy: STEMworks.

The 10th Annual Hawaiʻi STEM Conference, held on May 1 and 2, reaffirmed once again the power of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education and its impact on the future of our keiki, community and our world.

The conference was presented by STEMworks™, a statewide initiative of Maui Economic Development Board, Inc.

Over 1,000 educators and students from over 100 schools and 215 industry partners organizations across the state and even from the U.S. mainland attended the annual conference, which is the state’s largest Science, Technology, Engineering and Math event dedicated to engaging a new generation of STEM innovators and leaders in Hawaiʻi. The event was held at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center on Oahu.

This year’s regional conference featured over 85 hands-on student sessions and teacher professional development sessions presented by education teams and industry experts, 7 student-centered STEM competitions, an interactive STEMworks™ Playground, a formal awards banquet (“The STEMMY’s”), a STEMworks™ Spotlight showcasing the STEM service learning projects by Hawaiʻi STEMworks™ students statewide, and a 5×5 Session that provided students the opportunity to engage with engaged STEM industry professionals in a speed networking format.

New to the event this year, were 3 fast-paced HACKATHONs where students were empowered to create a Voyaging song for the Hokulea, develop solutions to protect endangered corals from our planet’s warming oceans, or design an app to mobilize citizen scientists to bring attention to endangered/threatened animals in Hawaiʻi.


Keynote speakers also set the tone for this year’s conference igniting students’ passion for STEM and encouraging them to use their skills to make a difference. Presenters were: Nainoa Thompson, President of the Polynesian Voyaging Society; Sabari Raja, Co-Founder and CEO of Nepris, Inc.; Shah Selbe of National Geographic Explorer; and Brandon Marcos, Kauai High School’s STEMworks™ Star.


Students also had the opportunity to participate in STEM competitions. This year’s Hawaiʻi STEM Conference winners were:

60 Second Lab Tour Winner – Ryclan Bernal, Danielle Cadalzo, Courtni Napihaa, Maria Paras (Keaau High School)

ArcGIS Online US Competition Finalists:


–       Leilani Stone (Keaʻau High School)

–       Jasmin Kim and Alexandra Ruff (Kealakehe High School)

–       Zak Clark and Michael Souther (Kealakehe High School)

–       Justin Kawamura (King Kekaulike High School)

–       Emery Jade Meyer-Wallett (King Kekaulike High School)

Game Design Winner – Angelica Lee (Roosevelt High School)

Photography Winner – Cameron Viernes (Baldwin High School)

STEMworks Mascot Winner – Marie Andam (Maui Waena Intermediate School)

Superhero CAD Winner – Joseph Wojcieski, Edrei Bugtong, Marly Domingo (Maui Waena Intermediate School)

T-Shirt Design Winner – Reece Kikuchi (Baldwin High School)

On-Site Product Pitch Design Winner –Alex Macaraeg, Matthew Poe, Jadynne Zane, Zoren Atijera (Maui High School)

On-Site Video Winner – Jaxon Chester, Antonio Mason, Isaac Mataele, Taiger Ogasawara (King Kekaulike High School)

On-Site Coral Hack Winner – Cameron Loewen, Kalila Phillips, Victoria Teoh, Branden Wong (Baldwin High School)

On-Site Citizen Science App Winner – Tim Aguirre, Jacob Scott Mackay, Ian Jessop, Garett Pascual-Folster, Carlos Bulan (Campbell High School)

On-Site Voyaging Song Challenge Winners *:

–       Eddie Cabasag, Emiliy Javonillo, Gevy Miguel (Highlands Intermediate School)

–       Xander Engelman, Elle Joharah Rabor, Jadee Silva (Highlands Intermediate School)

–       Preston Ito, Keireana Higaki-Ragudo (King Kekaulike High School)

–       Celina Brito (King Kekaulike High School), Nalea Brito (King Kekaulike High School), Robert Brito (Kalama Intermediate School), Noah Grandemenge (Stevenson Middle School)

–       Chase Cabacungan, Shairene Mei Bayle, Janalise Woodson (Maui Waena Intermediate School)

–       Laulea Kekahuna, Waileia Poepoe Mollena, Ikaia Purdy, Loane Sibayan (O Hina I Ka Malama Kula Kiekie Molokai High School)

–       Janelyn Geronimo, Andrei Marcos, Tiffany Mendoza  (Waipahu High School)

* According to Mark Loughridge, Director of CASE Accelerator for Student Entrepreneurship at Punahou School and one of the Voyaging Song Challenge organizers, “Rather than picking a single team to win this year’s challenge, the judges declared all teams participating in this song competition a winner. Henry Kapono extended the offer to work with all interested teams this summer.  They have been invited to participate in a one-day workshop that will take place at the MELE Studios at Honolulu Community College. Henry has graciously offered to step through the songwriting and recording process during this session. James Anshutz , Music Teacher from Punahou School, also kindly offered to serve as the project manager for the summer session.”

Those who attended the Hawaiʻi STEM Conference touted the impact STEM education and this annual conference continues to have:

“What I like best about this conference is the energy from all the attendees – like we’re one big happy family learning about STEM,” said Brandon Marcos, a senior at Kauai High School. “Having STEM skills is really important because technology will continue to advance. We already see self-driving cars and artificial intelligence, and no matter what career field you decide to go into, STEM will be a part of it.”

“One of the biggest benefits about this conference is the networking,” said Brigitte Ululani Russo, a teacher at Waianae Intermediate. “I love seeing students and teachers and also organizations who are interested in partnering with us. We were able to talk one-on-one with various businesses and organizations and they let us know how they can help with expertise and resources.”

According to Ethan Chee, a Moanalua High School senior, ”I attended this conference to be more exposed to the different types of engineers and to learn more about technology and how it can be applied in our society. I enjoyed interacting with other professional engineers from different organizations. They talked to me and gave me feedback on what I’ve been doing in my STEM classes, and what I can do as a future engineer.”

According to Peter Lin, a teacher at Pukalani Elementary School, “A lot of things that we learned during this conference are helping us move in the right direction. We’re prepare our students for the technologies that are coming out and encouraging them to become creative thinkers and innovators, because they will have a lot of problems that need solving in this world – climate change, automation, artificial intelligence, just to name a few.”

Keireana Higaki-Ragudo, a senior at King Kekaulike High School, shared her experience participating in the Voyaging Song Challenge, “It was really cool to have Hawaiʻi’s legends encouraging us. Henry Kapono and Paula Fuga gave us great advice about our song and Nainoa Thompson inspired us with his words. This entire experience really helped me grow as an artist. As one of this year’s song challenge winners, we’re thrilled that we have an opportunity for our song to be carried by the Hokulea and shared around the world to bring people together. To be able to say, this is our people’s song and we are all one ‘ohana – that’s really amazing.”

According to Kawika Gonzales, a teacher at Kaunakakai School on Molokai, “My goal with attending this year’s conference was to be inspired, to see the various tools and resources available that can enrich our students’ learning and to make connections with people. I’ve been teaching for 18 years and seeing my students being able to learn today’s technology and to become problem solvers has really been refreshing.”

Leslie Wilkins, MEDB President and CEO, shared “While each person who attended the conference had different take away from their experiences, I believe they all shared a common thread and that’s the importance of students connecting the dots between STEM education and creating pathways for their future. I believe we all need to work together to empower our youth and equip them with knowledge and resources so they are prepared for tomorrow’s STEM careers, so they can become our next generation of innovators and leaders, and that spark that one day changes our world.”

The 10th Annual Hawaiʻi STEM Conference was funded by the Office of Naval Research, Air Force Research and Laboratory; with support from the County of Maui Office of Economic Development, MEDB Ke Alahele Education Fund, and Creative Industries Hawaiʻi. Event was sponsored by: Kaiser Permanente, University of Hawaiʻi Systems, Strada Education Network, Hawaiʻi Energy, Microsoft, Hawaiian Electric, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum &K Park, Cyber Hawaiʻi, Engie, Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, Hawaiʻi Geographic Information Coordinating Council, and Esri.

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