Our Islands, Our Future
Why look up?

Why look up?

Brighten Tantisira, a King Kekaulike High School alumnus, recently wrote and graphically designed a book, Why Look Up? An Introduction to Our Fascinating Universe for Young Students and Novices. Tantisira is a former Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) STEMworks™ intern who worked with the UH Institute for Astronomy (IfA) last year. While interning at IfA, he experienced a fascinating branch of science not offered in his high school curriculum and published a peer-reviewed paper, “Consistency and Precision Measurements of Seven Double Stars,” in the Journal of Double Star Observations. He also felt compelled to write a non-fiction astronomy book geared towards elementary and middle school students. 

“I chose this age group because I wanted to inspire the next generation about this amazing field,” Tantisira explained. “However, novices of all ages can benefit just as much by reading my book. The book covers various topics, including stars, moons, galaxies, exoplanets, nebulae, protostars, star clusters, galaxy clusters, supernovae, and why we study all of them. By the end, you’ll have a strong foundational understanding of the most captivating astronomical objects and phenomena in our universe.”   

In Why Look Up?, Tantisira stimulates curiosity about our fascinating universe through careful explanations and engaging images, including original photos. “With permission to use them in my book, I obtained my astronomical photos through the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network by programming observations into their portal,” Tantisira recalled. “My experience at IfA is what inspired me to create an astronomy book introducing this field in a simple and entertaining way to young audiences who might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn about the cosmos.” He added, “Being able to intern at the IfA through the MEDB STEMworks Internship program was a one-of-a-kind opportunity. I not only learned about the fascinating field of astronomy, I also attained new insights about careers in the field, such as monitoring asteroids near our Earth for safety reasons. My internship also exposed me to the importance of the scientific method and provided me with a strong introduction to astronomy and its techniques. Basically, I learned what scientific research is all about, and I hope to major in astronomy, or something along this line.” 

Thank you MEDB for all the opportunities offered through the STEMworks Internship Program!

Brighten Tantisira King Kekaulike High School Alumnus Astronomer and Author, Why Look Up?

Healthcare exploration for students

Healthcare exploration for students

This spring, Maui Economic Development Board’s STEMworks™ program organized three Healthcare Exploration Day events with Maui Health. The events, hosted by the Maui Health team at Maui Memorial Medical Center (MMMC) and made possible by generous funding from the County of Maui, aimed to inspire and educate students from middle and high school campuses across Maui, Molokai, and Lāna’i. In total, 11 schools, 260 students, and 20 healthcare professionals participated in hands-on activities, seeing first-hand how students can make a difference in their communities by learning life-saving skills.

The events began with moving pules by Kumu Iolani Kuoha and Kumu Luana Kawa’a, which acknowledged the land served by Maui Nui’s healthcare professionals. The students then learned about the dangers of distracted driving from MMMC nursing staff. Additional breakout sessions were held on stop the bleed skills, hands-on compressions, automated external defibrillator (AED) use, recognizing signs of stroke, trauma resuscitation techniques, the role of respiratory therapy in healthcare, imaging technology, and volunteer opportunities at the hospital.

The third event in the series also featured Marian Horikawa-Barth, Chief Nurse Executive for MMMC. She spoke to the students about her role and the critical need in Maui County for more medical professionals. “As we face a growing shortage of healthcare professionals, this event is not just an educational opportunity, but a crucial step towards inspiring the next generation,” said Lalaine Pasion, STEMworks program specialist. “By bringing together Maui’s health professionals to demonstrate a variety of medical fields, we aimed to spark interest in healthcare careers at an early age.”

Lynn A. Fulton, Maui Health CEO, noted, “Maui Health provides a great opportunity for students to be able to build a career. There is nothing like seeing what happens in a hospital through interactions with the people who work here.”

Maui Health Human Resources Leader Tara K. Cole shared, “Healthcare Exploration Day is designed to provide students, who are interested in healthcare but are perhaps not sure which field will best suit their gifts and goals, a chance to learn about all that our programs have to offer. Positions are available right out of high school.”

For more information, visit online or call 808-242-2251 on Wednesdays to speak to a recruiter.

I’m very interested in the medical field. Today I learned the importance of vital life-saving skills and that emergencies can happen to anyone, at any time. I want to be prepared!
Jaiden Ibañez, 8th grader, Maui Waena Intermediate School

STEMworks™ on Molokai

STEMworks™ on Molokai

As part of ongoing efforts to support culturally relevant education, Maui Economic Development Board’s (MEDB) STEMworks™ AFTERschool Program recently organized a trip to Molokai for eight of its Maui Island teachers. “Offering an approach to merge traditional Hawaiian knowledge with modern STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) techniques, these Molokai sessions supported and inspired not only teachers, but also students,” said Lalaine Pasion, STEMworks Program Specialist. “This type of cultural exchange is a direct investment in our future. When we inspire and provide opportunities for educators, we empower them to shape a generation with knowledge, creativity, and compassion.”

Agreeing, Maui STEMworks Facilitator, Mark Guaglione, said, “I learn so much from visiting STEM educators on different islands, such as Uncle Bobby at ‘Āina Pulapula. Uncle Bobby’s six-acre farm is a part of the World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms network. Here, sustainable agriculture practices, crucial for island self-reliance and environmental stewardship, were on display. The farm’s achievement of 70-percent food self-sufficiency provided a tangible example of successful integration of traditional farming methods with modern agriculture, showcasing sustainable agricultural practices essential for island self-reliance.”

A tour of Molokai Sea Farms showed educators the complexities and challenges of shrimp farming. This visit highlighted the significance of local produce in a globalized and competitive economy and the impact of community support on local industries. Pasion recalled, “Another significant moment was the engagement with Kumu Gonzales at Kaunakakai. He demonstrated his approach to integrating Hawaiian culture into computer science education using petroglyphs in’s STEMworks lessons. This presented a unique and culturally relevant method of STEM education.”

Observing the Makahiki Festival on Molokai, the visiting teachers also explored historic sites, such as Kalaupapa, which offered cultural immersion to deepen the understanding of Hawaiian traditions and history. “Teachers from Maui who joined these Molokai sessions gained invaluable insights into integrating traditional Hawaiian wisdom with contemporary educational strategies,” Pasion concluded. “This experience enriched their teaching methodologies, enabling them to integrate culturally sensitive and relevant materials into their classrooms. The Molokai sessions, a part of STEMworks AFTERschool Program, have contributed to bridging the gap between traditional and modern education. Such initiatives are crucial for preparing educators to foster a generation that is knowledgeable, culturally aware, and technologically adept.”

STEMworks education inspires students to experiment, relate, and think critically about the future of their island home.
Lalaine Pasion, STEMworks Program Specialist

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED) 2024

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED) 2024

Each year, in conjunction with National Engineering Week, Maui Economic Development Board’s (MEDB) STEMworks™ program offers their popular Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED). This year, MEDB hosted 120 young minds from across Maui County including Molokai and Lanai. During the program, participants did hands-on experiments and learned about the various engineering careers and the contributions engineers make to the community. The students, teachers and engineers enjoyed a successful day of learning, sharing, and inspiration.

“IGED places girls in a better position to shape their future through innovation and diversity in a growing economy,” said Leslie Wilkins, MEDB President & CEO. “Connecting students to the real world paves the way for genuine learning opportunities, giving them a chance to work in integrated teams with a variety of skills.”

Lalaine Pasion, STEMworks Program Specialist, noted, “Middle school girls were shown how engineers are the inventors and problem-solvers of the world. A special shoutout goes to the 20 engineers from organizations including the University of Glasgow, NSO/AURA, Battelle, Hawaiian Electric, Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, National Solar Observatory, Morikawa & Associates, Privateer, and AFRL Space Force. Their involvement brought invaluable real-world STEM experiences to our students, opening their eyes to the vast possibilities within engineering.”

IGED supports girls as they explore different engineering career pathways. They were given engineering kits for the breakout sessions on different subjects that included electrical, aerospace, and mechanical engineering. The students built rockets, microscopes, and speakers to play music on. A 7th grader from Lahaina Intermediate shared, “I really loved how we all worked together and made something new. The 5×5 Industry Networking Session gave us the chance to ask questions and engage with all the STEM professionals.”

Maui resident Sophia Davis, a STEMworks alumnus and a bioengineering student at the University of Glasgow, shared, “I gained so much from the STEMworks programs growing up, that of course, I want to give back and hopefully inspire more girls to pursue an engineering path as I did. Thank you MEDB for the remarkable opportunities you gave to me and continue to give to students throughout Hawaii.”

I gained so much from the STEMworks programs growing up, that of course, I want to give back and hopefully inspire more girls to pursue an engineering path as I did. Thank you MEDB for the remarkable opportunities you gave to me and continue to give to students throughout Hawai‘i. Sophia Davis, a STEMworks Alumnus and a Bioengineering Student at the University of Glasgow

STEMworks AI Camps

STEMworks AI Camps

Recently, through Maui Economic Development Board’s (MEDB) STEMworks™ program, students from Lokelani Intermediate, Maui Waena, Iao Intermediate, and Baldwin High School had a unique opportunity to delve into the world of artificial intelligence (AI). A total of 160 students from these Maui schools participated in a hands-on, in-person AI training experience. The mission of STEMworks is to provide students and teachers with resources, inspiration, and tools that empower them to improve their community and the world.

“The training was part of the STEMworks AI camps, designed to nurture creativity and develop AI skills among young leaders,” said Lalaine Passion, STEMworks Program Specialist. “These camps offer students a chance to bring their own books, stories, comics, and business ideas to life using the power of AI. Students are encouraged to experiment, create, and think critically about the role of AI in various fields.” 

Born and raised on Maui, Gabriel Yanagihara, an experienced educator with a background in computer science, creative media and video game design, helped the students understand the fascinating possibilities of AI. “Our journey in blending AI with creative writing has been nothing short of magical,” Yanagihara explained. “As an educator, it’s thrilling to see how technologies like ChatGPT can enhance learning, ignite imagination, and bring student creations to life in the most enchanting ways. In a fun and educational setting, we’re equipping students with the skills and confidence to navigate the digital world. In our class every student is a storyteller, every story a gateway to new worlds, and every AI-generated illustration a bridge between imagination and reality.”

Yanagihara’s guidance, expertise and contributions were instrumental in making the AI camp a success. His initiative marks a significant step in introducing young minds to the possibilities of AI and its role in shaping the future. “These events are a perfect introduction for beginners who want to explore the power of AI in a supportive environment,” he added, “Students can discover how AI tools can enhance their problem-solving skills and revolutionize the way they approach design challenges. In a world where education constantly evolves with technology, it’s important to find innovative ways to nurture creativity.”

Through AI-powered illustration tools, my students have embarked on a journey transforming imaginative narratives into vivid and tangible experiences. Gabriel Yanagihara, STEM educator

The Aerospace Industry On Maui

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: Daron Nishimoto, MEDB Business Development Director & EO Solutions

Empower, Explore, Engage, Excel!

Empower, Explore, Engage, Excel!

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

STEMworks™ Ag Business & Technology Internship Program

STEMworks™ Ag Business & Technology Internship Program

Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) showcased their STEMworks™ Ag Business and Technology Internship Program at the 2023 Maui County Farm Bureau Maui AgFest & 4-H Livestock Fair. Through the program, students in grades 9-12 and college undergraduates have the opportunity to gain experience in multiple industries within the agriculture sector to find their interests, build their resume, and become career-ready. These experiences provide invaluable work-based learning for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) students, not only to explore professional pathways, but also to work on meaningful projects using industry-standard technologies.

“The purpose of the Ag Business & Technology Internship program, now available for fall, spring, and summer semesters, is to provide students with opportunities to explore careers and gain hands-on learning in a field of their interest, which they would not get in a classroom setting,” said Britney James STEMworks Agriculture Program Specialist. “MEDB comes to the Maui AgFest & 4-H Livestock Fair each year to promote the program and the Ag industry in general. We need more youth going into the Ag industry and hopefully this program inspires them to consider it, or at least gives them a better understanding of the industry.”

Baldwin High School student Mylez Planesi Kauhola said, “I interned at Waipono Farm Aquaponic & Hydroponic Greenhouse at UH Maui College. Learning about how to take care of the fish and how to farm certain plants using all water and no dirt, has made me interested in learning more about how to do hydroponics and raising fish. I am always excited to learn new things.”

Lae’ula Kaauwai, 9th grade homeschooler shared, “I am an intern at Sust’āinable Molokai’s Mobile Market, where I’m learning how they connect farmers with customers for locally-grown food to supply the community’s needs. I also want to learn how to help my community in every way I can.” 

STEMworks marketing intern Emma Jane Roy, Baldwin High School 10th grade, added, “I created social media posts for each of the students, created the presentation for our showcase, designed flyers, and the intern booklet. I learned about the different aspects of marketing, which is my career aspiration.” 

Ag Business & Technology Internship requirements include attending weekly virtual professional development meetings, and presenting at the final showcase. Plus, interns receive a stipend upon successful completion. Britney James, STEMworks Agriculture Program Specialist

Pathways to our Future

Pathways to our Future

Maui Economic Development Board’s (MEDB) Ke Alahele Education Fund grantee, King Kekaulike High School, applied STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) funding towards Tower Garden® growing systems for an aeroponics project, “The Power of a Plant: STEM in the Special Education Classroom”. Aeroponics is the method of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil. The project supports at-risk special education students, but other students also reaped the benefits of this innovative learning experience using STEM concepts.

King Kekaulike teacher Dori Pritchett said, “I have been working toward developing programs and experiences that would empower my students with skills they need to thrive in their future careers. Thanks to the Ke Alahele grant, I was able to obtain the vertical aeroponic growing systems with seeds, nutrients, and supplies−everything we need to get growing. Instead of soil, Tower Garden® plants grow in a medium called rockwool, which provides plant roots with oxygen and consistent moisture.”

Throughout the project, Pritchett’s students were directly involved in creating state-of-the-art farming solutions, beginning with the biology of growing food. STEM concepts showed how constructing aeroponic structures leads to the idea of developing large-scale systems that are sustainable and productive. For example, NASA has been studying aeroponics for several decades, as a way of growing food in space habitats. “The students integrated local culture through the creation of healthy food dishes designed with their own produce,” Pritchett explained. “The project lends itself to teaching them how to become entrepreneurs, create income, and contribute to the community. I’m grateful to MEDB for helping me provide incredible experiences like this for my students.”

The students said that the Tower Garden® growing system was a positive addition to the classroom. Tenth grader Adryanna Kurosawa noted, “I learned about aeroponics and how to measure the pH which allows the plants to absorb nutrients.” Samuel Contreras, 9th grader, added, “The most interesting thing I learned was that plants can live, grow, and thrive indoors. The aeroponic tower was a positive addition to our class because all the kids got to work together.”

MEDB’s Ke Alahele Education Fund supports a myriad of STEM education programs. The annual Ke Alahele Education Fund Benefit Dinner & Auction, ‘Pathways to Our Future,’ will be held on Saturday, August 31, 2019 at the Wailea Beach Resort-Maui Marriott. For reservations visit

Dodi Pritchett, Study Skills teacher, King Kekaulike High School