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NHSEMP - Native Hawaiian Science & Engineering Mentorship Program

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December 09, 2008

Honolulu – Marking its sixth year of success, the Native Hawaiian Science and Engineering Mentorship Program (NHSEMP) has made leaps and strides towards its goal of inspiring excellence among students of underrepresented ethnicities in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields at UH Manoa’s College of Engineering. Kaiho‘olulu Rickard is one such student. Kai, as he’s better known, is an electrical engineering student on the eve of finishing school at UH Manoa. Despite the gloomy outlook for the economy, Kai isn’t too worried. “[NHSEMP] helped me focus on my studies and set goals. They got me started with a mentor who’s been helping me out with choosing good projects to work on,” said Kai.

NHSEMP provides several different avenues of support for STEM field students, with its focus on connecting students with the best match of mentors to help guide their study and research through college. Lloyd French is one such mentor. French, a Mechanical Engineer who studied at UC Berkley, is a researcher at the Hawai‘i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology. Kai was his first protégé, and for some time, his only. French has over a dozen now. “It’s been really successful,” French says, reflecting on how things have gone. “A lot of students have entered this program just thinking about jobs and internships, but over time they start thinking more about creating their own projects, writing their own grants, and looking at grad school. I also see them thinking about ways they can apply what they learn to their community.”

Kai began his mentorship during his sophomore year of school at UH Manoa. “That year,” he says, “I was introduced to Lloyd French, and after that I really began to get involved in projects like MMIC, or Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit, and JPL, which is the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.” Kai is enthusiastic when he talks about the opportunities he’s had while at UH Manoa. “I’ve really gotten involved in what I’m doing here. My freshman year, my grades weren’t so good. I had about a 2.0 GPA then. So, after I joined the program, I was given my own small office, and working with a mentor, basically helped me pull my GPA up to a 3.0 in two semesters.”

NHSEMP does more than provide students with mentors. It also provides students with academic counseling, information about internships, social events, community service opportunities, and in some cases, financial support. NHSEMP has its eye on the future in its efforts at reaching out to the growing number of current and prospective students, as well as alumni. These efforts have also led to the recent launch of its website.

NHSEMP goes beyond learning in the classroom. Program organizers often arrange for students to visit the island of Kaho‘olawe. Kai has visited Kaho‘olawe twice with NHSEMP, in 2004 and 2006. “One trip to Kaho‘olawe was done through KIRC – the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission, where we worked together helping with restoration on the island. One day we’d be helping with erosion control, sometimes we’d help plant native vegetation, or removing invasive species. The other time I went, we were there with PKO, which is the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana. On that trip, we mostly had the chance to see the island in a more cultural sense. We visited different historical sites, and that gave me a different perspective on the value of what’s there, and why it’s worth protecting. Essentially, Kaho‘olawe is uninhabited, and mostly barren. For a long time, the island’s been used by the military for training and bombing practice, so today what they’re trying to do is clean up the island and help with restoration.”

Kai speaks positively of his trips with NHSEMP. All of these experiences have helped Kai grow as an individual, and aided his understanding and appreciation of his future work in the field of engineering.

The Native Hawaiian Science & Engineering Mentorship Program (NHSEMP) offers its students unique opportunities, financial and academic support, and a shared sense of community. Its mission is to provide these services to Native Hawaiian, Native American, and Pacific Island students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. NHSEMP helps acquaint students with best-fit mentors, in addition to sponsoring field trips, workshops, and in some cases, offers financial assistance. Additionally, the program provides referrals to internship opportunities throughout the summer and the academic school year. Students in the program are expected to maintain a high level of commitment to their academic studies, which includes a minimum semester GPA. NHSEMP also encourages its members to participate in social events such as the ‘Ohana Program, which help establish a stronger sense of community among students. Comprehensive support involving outreach, recruitment, retention, and placement strategies aim to increase the number of qualified individuals on a successful path to leadership in community, industry, and academia.

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Media Contacts:

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Joshua Kaakua
MEP Coordinator

(808) 956-2289

Kelli Ching
MEP Project Specialist

(808) 956-7945

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