Maui resident and licensed commercial pilot Tessa Coulter is a visionary behind AI (artificial intelligence) aviation software as well as her new nonprofit: The Little Yellow Airplane Project. Coulter also volunteers her time and her own plane to fly rescue animals, farm produce, school supplies and other necessities to those in need.
Immediately in the aftermath of the Maui wildfires, Coulter loaded up her small plane to fly into Kapalua with food and essentials for fire victims. “It’s a blessing to be able to help other people,” she said. “The fires showed how important aviation is here in Hawaii. We were able to assist those who required immediate aid, even before any of the government agencies got there. It was amazing to see the whole Hawaii private aviation community mobilize.”
Coulter, who studied mechanical engineering in college, took her first flight in 2019 and fell in love with flying. Shortly after, she signed up for flight lessons and bought her first plane. She is currently developing AI software for an online 30-hour ground school course for private pilots, plus programs for students.
One of Coulter’s co-pilots, Bianca Vasquez, another Maui-based female pilot, got her start in aviation through the Maui Civil Air Patrol student program. “Bianca earned her private pilot certificate at the age of 17 and recently started the nonprofit Women of Color in Aviation,” Coulter noted. “We both want to share the importance of aviation careers, from air traffic controllers to aerospace engineers, dispatchers, aircraft maintenance technicians—the demand is massive.”
Recently, Coulter gave a presentation to Maui Economic Development Board’s STEMworks AFTERschool students at Iao School. “My mission is to introduce and inspire our youth about the world of aviation,” Coulter said. “I want to debunk the myth that aviation is inaccessible. Through STEM programs and scholarships, our Little Yellow Plane Project hopes to open doors for young aviators to foster their passion and reach their aspirations. I want our youth to know if they really want to fly a plane, or have a career in aviation, it’s available to them. There are vast opportunities awaiting young people. The sky’s the limit!”
Using my Cessna 150 for humanitarian flights is a blessing. Giving back is what it’s all about. For more info call (808) 264-6934 or email email@example.com.
Tessa Coulter, Maui Pilot
Maui Economic Development Board presented a Maui TechOhana event in November on the topic of Aerospace on Maui. Supported by the County of Maui, MEDB’s TechOhana provide an informal networking opportunity open to anyone interested in Maui County’s innovation and business industry. Events typically include a short presentation on a relevant topic in business or technology, followed by the opportunity to talk with others with similar professional interests.
At the meeting, the esteemed panel of five space industry leaders based in LĪPOA, formerly known as the Maui Research & Tech Park, talked story with over 30 guests who heard about the future of the aerospace industry on Maui. Daron Nishimoto, MEDB Business Development Director and EO Solutions moderated a panel that included Lisa Thompson, KBR; Dr. Channing Chow, Cloudstone Innovations; Dr. Shadi Naderi, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL); and Dr. Bogdan Udrea, VisSidus Technologies, Inc.; who all shared their vision, their technical ideas, and the career opportunities for Maui residents within the industry.
Nishimoto began the lively and engaging discussion with an introduction explaining how much we rely on space systems for our everyday needs such as phones, banking, internet, and navigation. “As an example, during the Maui fires I was able to get Starlink terminals into the Lahaina community to give people internet service,” Nishimoto shared. “Those affected were thankful to be able to get messages out to family and friends.”
“This panel of experts represented a good sample of tech innovation in a growing industry on Maui,” said Annette Lynch, MEDB Director of Communications who led the coordination of the event. “In addition to sharing their space projects they talked story about their career pathway and the benefits to being able to pursue their chosen field living on Maui.”
Nishimoto added, “Aerospace depends on many kinds of expertise that helps to diversify the economy offering pathways relative to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM.)”
Naderi also explained her STEM outreach projects for K-12 students. “I love to work with children. In collaboration with MEDB, AFRL takes a mobile planetarium and a thermal infrared camera to the classrooms. The students really love these activities.”
The Aerospace industry is growing on Maui with a host of companies and programs engaged in advanced research and development. For more information, visit: www.mauitechohana.com.
Daron Nishimoto, MEDB Business Development Director & EO Solutions
Known by many as a pillar in the community, Brian Moto was born and raised on Maui. He attended Makawao School, Maui High School (Kahului campus), UH Manoa, the University of Michigan Law School, and Yale Divinity School. He is a member of both the Hawaii and New York bar associations. Presently, Moto is employed as the Special Assistant to the Chancellor of UHMC, where he addresses the range of UHMC educational initiatives related to institutional, county, state, federal, and private-sector interests. Formerly, for eight years, he served as the County of Maui’s chief legal advisor and legal representative, and also as a deputy corporation counsel.
Moto’s community service record is already outstanding; however, he continues to offer his time and skills for the benefit of others. His acts of kindness are an inspiration to all. When asked what moves him to service, he replied, “Short answer is that I often find that I gain a lot more from working with worthwhile causes than I actually contribute. Volunteerism is a net-positive investment. I’ve also learned that basic principles and practices of good governance, organization, and management apply universally, regardless of the particular sector or entity.”
A few of the nonprofits and community organizations that Moto actively supports include the Rotary Club of Maui, Aloha House (Maui Behavioral Health Resources), Maui High School Foundation, Catholic Charities Hawaii, Chaine des Rotisseurs, Ebb and Flow Arts, Paia Mantokuji Mission, Maui’s Sons and Daughters of the Nisei Veterans, and Maui Adult Day Care Centers, among others.
“Presently, my Rotary Club of Maui has received generous donations from Rotary clubs in the U.S. and from Australia, and from individuals for Maui fire relief,” Moto shared. “The Rotary Club of Maui has formed a committee to determine how best to distribute the funds to help those in need, and is working with other Rotary clubs on Maui in this endeavor.”
Service for community and country runs in the family. Moto’s late father, Kaoru, a member of the famous 442 Regimental Combat team, was a highly decorated World War II veteran. In 2000, the Medal of Honor award was presented to the Moto family.
Today, my dad’s Medal of Honor is displayed in the ‘Nisei Soldier Experience’ exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Army.
Brian Moto, Special Assistant to the Chancellor of UHMC
For the past four weeks a group of amateur astronomers, under the direction of Dr. J.D. Armstrong, Educational Outreach Coordinator for the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, have been setting up amateur telescopes at some of the hotels where people who have lost their homes have been staying. Derek Takeno of the Red Cross asked Armstrong if it was possible to bring some telescopes out for the residents. Studies have shown that astronomy outreach has a positive mental effect for people suffering from trauma and depression. Plus, the effort, named Stars of Hope, has had an outpouring of volunteers who also have experienced a sense of happiness in being able to share some aloha with people affected by the fires.
“Our volunteers consist of people with a passion for astronomy, including astronomy students from UH Maui College and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) teachers,” said Dr. Cindy L. Krach, Haleakala Amateur Astronomers. “Individuals from these groups bring out telescopes and set them up on the hotel grounds. Royal Lahaina hotel was the initial site, then Honua Kai, and the Westin Hotel in Kaanapali. The volunteers set up telescopes and then show off the night sky, sharing their knowledge. We have talked story with adults and children alike, some evenings speaking to between 30 and 100 individuals. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere outside in nature. People can just walk up to anyone with a telescope and are encouraged to have a look and ask questions.”
Armstrong reflected, “I just want to do something for people so they know we care. Some people want to share their stories, sometimes they just want to have a relaxing evening under the stars, enjoying a unique experience.”
Krach added, “There is a sense of quiet and peace, but also excitement, particularly with the children. We have received positive feedback from the Red Cross and the people that come to the events. Some have said they had never had the opportunity to look through a telescope before. One little girl came back four times to look at the moon, saying, ‘It’s just so beautiful.’”
We hope to continue our weekly Stars of Hope parties and in the future we’re also planning some events for first responders and their families.
Dr. Cindy L. Krach, Haleakala Amateur Astronomers
Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) has developed a wide-ranging slate of programs to advance K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education for the County of Maui and statewide. Together with an extensive network of partners, MEDB has initiated innovative educational programs and services that support both students and educators. Their end goal is a resident workforce with the technological capabilities, innovation, critical thinking, and entrepreneurial skills to participate fully in Hawaii’s economy.
“Essentially, MEDB’s educational programs are designed to balance the need for economic stability and diversity,” said Leslie Wilkins, MEDB President and CEO. “We design each program with respect for the community’s cultural and environmental traditions.”
Recently, MEDB hosted 150 middle and high school students and STEM educators for Student Space Exploration Day. Participants met with former astronaut Scott ‘Scooter’ Altman for a firsthand discussion of living and working in space. The students also experienced hands-on scientific demonstrations and presentations of advanced technologies.
Altman, a retired United States Navy Captain, talked about his four Space Shuttle missions as well as his time as a Naval aviator, test pilot, engineer, and astronaut. “I like to engage with students because it’s important that we connect with the next generation and get them interested in space-related issues,” he said. “It will be students in this age group, whom I am talking to today, who might be the first ones on Mars!”
Melinda White, Hawaii Technology Academy STEM educator, said, “It’s amazing to bring students to this event and expose them to career pathways that exist for their future in Hawaii. We are a STEMworks™ school and truly appreciate all the opportunities MEDB provides for students across the state; such as their Lending Library which includes a portable planetarium.”
Wilson Chau, a Maui High School junior, said, “Meeting astronaut Scott Altman was a great experience. I am currently doing a project with the James Webb telescope and I learned so much from Mr. Altman’s talk. Thank you, MEDB and STEMworks, for all the opportunities you give students from different backgrounds to encounter the current advances in technology. I am grateful for this chance to further my career goals.”
Student Space Exploration Day really opens the students up to different opportunities they never even thought of. It is so difficult to get exposure like this for them. MEDB makes it all happen!
Jennifer Suzuki, Maui Waena School Technology Teacher
A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Common Ground Collective (CGC) strives to transform Maui into a bountiful and productive island that benefits both the environment and the people who live here, in extraordinary ways. Their administrative staff is a passionate group of individuals with experience in sustainable sciences, business management, research, agriculture, politics, law and the hospitality industry. They employ mobile farmers with skills such as regenerative farming practices, to transform unproductive land into blossoming farms throughout the community. CGC promotes food security, economic opportunities, educational opportunities including student internships, and sustainability through hands-on assistance and incentives. Recently, they have also turned their attention to relief efforts to those affected by the Maui fires.
“The wildfires have taken a great toll on our community and the community food security needs immediately surged,” said CGC Founding Executive Director, Jennifer Karaca. “On August 9th, after the Salvation Army’s (the state-contracted food provider during times of emergency) kitchen had burned down, CGC was contacted by Maui United Way to step in. We immediately acquired the kitchen at University of Hawaii Maui College (UHMC), coordinated the UHMC staff, various government agencies, the Chef Hui, and the World Central Kitchen (WCK) in order to begin providing meals for those in shelters, at various community hubs, and in the residence facilities not offering food. We have been working to incorporate products from local producers as much as possible to help offset the economic fallout of this disaster.”
While coordinating 8,000-10,000 meals a day for those in need, the CGC maintains its existing programs to promote food security island-wide. Karaca explained, “We will continue to procure local produce, proteins, and other added-value products needed for both UHMC and WCK, in addition to bulk food items for the community distribution hubs who are wanting to cook for themselves. Our organization strives to teach community members, volunteers, and students how to grow food, and provides essential knowledge and hands-on training for the efficient management of properties, while creating and nurturing connections with our many partners within the community. Bottom line, it’s about working together and helping each other.”
As we promote food security, education and economic opportunities on Maui, we also hope to set up a framework to bring this model of service to other areas in Hawaii and abroad.
Jennifer Karaca, CGC Founding Executive Director
This summer, 20 middle-school girls had the opportunity to attend Excite Camp, a STEMworks™ program sponsored by Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB). The three-day camp encourages girls to pursue education and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), while offering stimulating, experience-based instruction focused on today’s most in-demand career fields. The event combines lectures, hands-on-activities, and company-site tours while honoring Hawaiian culture.
Leslie Wilkins, MEDB President and CEO, said, “Besides the learning experience, STEMworks believes it is important for the girls to see the connection between Hawaii’s cultural heritage and scientific technology. Integrating Hawaiian traditions into hands-on STEM learning activities helps foster cultural understanding and ensures equity of access for all.”
Lalaine Pasion, STEMworks Program Specialist, explained, “Excite Camp builds confidence and motivates our young ladies with STEM activities, demonstrating that they can achieve anything they set their minds on. The girls experienced interactive learning, exciting technology tours, epic field trips, and STEM empowerment sessions. At the end of the program, the girls were no longer strangers, but colleagues and friends. They learned the value of teamwork, communication, and respect for their island heritage.”
‘Iolani Kū’oha, Vice-Principal at Molokai Middle School, noted, “I can’t say enough about the opportunities STEMworks has provided for our Molokai students over the years. They are inspired to work hard and dream big at events like Excite Camp. ‘A’ ohe hana nui ke alu ‘ia. No task is too big when done together.”
Paige Kealoha Nakihei, 7th grade Molokai Middle School, said, “Excite Camp gave me a better view of STEM careers in our Hawaiian culture. STEMworks allows me to learn more about science with girls my age. Mahalo nui loa, MEDB!”
Middle school student Destiny-Rayne Perry added, “We also got to see a film about Patsy Mink, who proved to everyone in Hawaii that women can do anything a man can do. By participating in programs like Excite Camp we show respect for what Patsy Mink won for all women and girls with Title IX. We are encouraged to embrace our uniqueness, stay connected to our roots, and to share our story.”
Excite Camp is successful because of our great community partners who are willing to share their knowledge, time, and resources to teach our girls fun, hands-on STEM activities, give them onsite tours, and impart cultural knowledge.
Lalaine Pasion, STEMworks Program Specialist
The Digital Bus, currently managed by Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB), is a program of Alaka’ina, a nonprofit 501(c)3 which ensures that the young men and women of Hawaii have the skills and competencies they need to be effective leaders. MEDB and Alaka’ina have made the Digital Bus program a reality with innovative educational programs that combine leadership, science, technology, and environmental stewardship. The Digital Bus offers mobile STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) classrooms to supplement curriculum to the students of Maui and Molokai as well as encourage interest in science and technology among the underrepresented student population.
“In operation since 2004, the Digital Bus offers single- and multiple-day classroom and field-based STEM projects to K-12 students,” said Leslie Wilkins, MEDB President and CEO. “Developed out of necessity due to the altered school year regulations during the Covid-19 pandemic, virtual projects were designed to be a combination of self-directed activities, classroom discussions, research projects, and video chats with the Digital Bus.”
Presently, projects are available for a range of grade levels. Scheduling for the Digital Bus is currently open for teachers who are interested in organizing a project for their class, and it can also be booked for community events. Additionally, professional development workshops through a teacher lending program provide opportunities for technology integration into curriculum and classroom usage.
U’ilani Lima, Molokai Digital Bus Site Coordinator, said, “The Digital Bus allows participants to have meaningful science-based outdoor experiences in ahupua’a (land divisions) from which they can directly learn and observe their own community’s resiliency and ecosystems. More importantly, students gain a deeper understanding of their rich cultural history, which includes the wisdom of ancient Hawaiians as environmental stewards. Participants benefit from contact with local community members, specialists, and kupuna while also integrating cutting edge technology such as water- and soil-testing equipment, data collection and mapping activities, and hands-on field-based activities. The Digital Bus projects aim to expand the next generation of leaders and scientists capable of developing and supporting critical technologies for the future with state-of-the-art mobile learning platforms and field-based science projects.”
The current technology goal of the Digital Bus Program is to develop skills that will result in more options for youth in Maui County.
In a featured talk, “Sharing Our Visions, Opportunities and Challenges in the Energy Industry”, at the 2023 Hawaii Energy Conference (HEC), Shelee Kimura, President and CEO of Hawaiian Electric, and Alicia Moy, President and CEO of Hawaii Gas, discussed Hawaii’s energy future from the perspective of their companies. Moderated by Jacqui Hoover, Chair, Conference Program Committee; Executive Director and COO, Hawaii Island Economic Development Board; and President, Hawaii Leeward Planning, the conversation was both informative and encouraging.
Hoover asked, “What message do you both want to send to the energy sector and to our communities? What goals can be filled and how do your two companies complement each other?”
Kimura said, “Hawaiian Electric’s economy-wide decarbonization plan includes every sector. We hope to adopt the 2030 aspirational goal to reduce our carbon emission by 50% in the state’s economy and then by 70% in the electricity sector. Hawaii Gas just filed their long-term plan which is intended to help Hawaii reach our 100% renewable energy goals by 2045. Our individual paths are very unique, but when we frame them together, which we must now, we can get things done. We are both working to get clean energy projects permitted, interconnected, and operational in a reasonable amount of time. Hawaii Gas is an important part of that. They are exploring carbon-free fuel for the long-term. Our challenge is to act and execute while we continue to innovate. We need to make these things happen at the same time. It is not easy.”
Moy added, “Shelee and I have bonded over Hawaii’s energy solutions, especially for the future of our next generation. I feel that there has been a shift. Once there was that competition, but now we know our future depends on working together. Hawaii Gas is focused on how Hawaii will meet its climate goals and the role we will play. If the state needs a recovery from any crisis, Hawaii Gas will be part of the solution. By increasing the amount of hydrogen blending in the pipeline plus other new technologies and innovations, there are new opportunities opening for all of us.”
It is achievable to reduce carbon emissions by more than two-thirds over this decade if everyone pitches in. Both of our companies want to create a cost-effective, sustainable, and resilient energy system for future generations.
Shelee Kimura, President & CEO, Hawaiian Electric, Alicia Moy, President & CEO, Hawaii Gas