Maui News

20th Annual Maui Excite Camp empowers young women interested in STEM

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  • STEMworks Excite Camp, Haleakalā. PC: Maui Economic Development Board
  • STEMworks Excite Camp, birds. PC: Maui Economic Development Board
  • STEMworks Excite Camp, Kahanu Gardens. PC: Maui Economic Development Board
  • STEMworks Excite Camp, chemistry. PC: Maui Economic Development Board
  • STEMworks Excite Camp, aviation. PC: Maui Economic Development Board

Returning for its 20th year, the STEMworks Excite Camp program wrapped up its four days of student activities on June 6. The day camp, which started in 2000 and focuses on the intersection of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and Hawaiian knowledge and culture, welcomed 19 middle school girls this year from across Maui County, including students from Hāna, Molokaʻi, and Lānaʻi. The free summer program aims to support and inspire young women, especially those of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander descent, to pursue post-secondary education and careers in STEM while staying connected to Hawaiʻi. 

Lalaine Pasion, the Excite Camp program manager, shared, “Since its inception, Excite Camp has evolved tremendously. This year, we’ve expanded the days and hours, with new sessions and diverse speakers.”

Field trips are central to Excite Camp’s mission to engage girls in STEM through place-based activities. The campers visited the summit of Haleakalā to honor the historic site and learn from aerospace professionals about astronomy and telescope technology. This year’s camp was the first to also include a day trip to Hāna, which allowed students to visit Kahanu Gardens to learn about Hawaiian history, native ecology, and see Piʻilanihale Heiau, the largest heiau in Polynesia. The students made hoʻokupu and learned oli to prepare for both site visits. Pasion explained, “Teaching STEM skills while incorporating Hawaiian values ensures our activities reflect and respect our culture.”


STEM topics covered during the camp’s activities, all of which were led by STEM industry professionals, included: aviation, conservation, ornithology, marine biology, GIS technology, augmented and virtual reality (VR) technology, artificial intelligence (AI), chemistry, archeology, and aerospace engineering. During these activities, the campers were also introduced to Hawaiian vocabulary as well as lessons on personal empowerment and career planning.

STEM industry professionals involved in leading camp activities included Tanya Lei-Greig (‘Āina Archeology), Dr. Moriba Jah (Privateer), Mia Spencer (Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project), Hokuaokaʻale Gilman (Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project), Nathalie Nunez (Fractilians), Dr. J.D. Armstrong (UH Institute for Astronomy), and Tishanna Ben (National Solar Observatory). Hawaiian cultural experts and practitioners, Kumu Bronson Ikaika Bajo (STEMworks Educator) and Aunty Piʻilani Lua (Kahanu Gardens), also led student activities. “My mission is to connect camp participants with inspiring female role models,” Pasion said. “I want the girls to see who they can become and be empowered to pursue their dreams.”    

Zoe Mai Zane, Maui High School class of 2024 graduate and a student mentor for Excite Camp this year, shared her perspective on the impact of STEMworks programming and why she chose to be involved in the camp as a mentor: “Being a woman in STEM and being able to have equal opportunities to pursue and thrive in STEM careers is something I’m in awe of.” Zane, who will be a psychology major at USC in the fall, led the campers through team-building activities. Sienna Jolie Raccoma, another student mentor and Maui High class of 2024 graduate, added, “I’ve been in STEM for 7 years and it has forever changed my life.”  Raccoma ran student activities on creative media and photography; she plans to study creative media at UHMC.


Engaging Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander girls in STEM prior to high school is critical to keeping them in the STEM education-to-workforce pipeline. Although students of all genders engage in STEM activities equally at the elementary school level, disparities in engagement and achievement appear as students age. In the workforce, women held only 28% of science and engineering jobs in the US in 2021 according to the National Science Foundation. Only 2% of science and engineering jobs in the US in 2021 were held by Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and mixed-race individuals, despite these groups making up 12.8% of the US population (12.6% identifying as more than one race, 0.2% identifying as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander) according to 2021 US Census Bureau data.

In addition to Excite Camp, STEMworks uses the real-world expertise of STEM and Hawaiian culture professionals to enhance its STEMworks AFTERschool program, the annual Hawai’i STEM Conference, and numerous career awareness field trips for public school students, such as Agriculture Field Day and Healthcare Exploration Day. For its paid internship programs, STEMworks partners with businesses across the state to place over 100 high school and early college students in project-based internships every year. 

STEMworks is a program of Maui Economic Development Board, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to work with local businesses, government, educators, and community leaders to support the development of a robust and balanced economy that benefits the people of Maui County.


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