Our Islands, Our Future
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

Maui Waena Soars to Excellence

Maui Waena Soars to Excellence

Maui Waena Intermediate School, a Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) STEMworks™ (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Program participant, won big in the largest student video competition in the nation. Thirty two Maui Waena students attended the 2023 Student Television Network (STN) convention in Long Beach, California over spring break. They competed against students from digital media programs around the nation, taking home 12 awards after participating in 11 on-site competitions and one pre-contest. Their weekly show, Falcon Features, was awarded an outstanding rank, coming in second among all entries.

“Maui Waena students always work very hard to prepare for STN, and always do well,” said Leslie Wilkins, MEDB President and CEO. “They, along with their STEMworks teacher Jennifer Suzuki, deserve acknowledgement for their efforts and quality productions. Congratulations!”

STN was started in 1999 by a group of teachers who wanted to support and encourage scholastic broadcasting and to provide a forum for students to share ideas, ask questions, and learn from professionals in the industry. Over the past 20 years, STN has expanded to include film, multimedia and other forms of communication taught in grades 6-12 in middle and high schools across the nation. 

Suzuki recalled, “For the past 12 years, MEDB has supported our after-school program and has helped to provide countless experiences and opportunities for our students. “This year’s STN convention was just the most recent. It also happened to be our most winning year yet! It was almost embarrassing when they kept calling our name, but the students put in hundreds of hours of practice and on Sunday, March 19, it all paid off. I think the most important thing that they learned was that if you put in the time and effort, it doesn’t matter if someone has better gear, telling the story is all that matters.”

Maui Waena student and news anchor Capriana Nozaki added, “The STN trip taught me how to be a good leader, how to communicate effectively, and how to stay organized. But above all, I got to connect and bond with people who work hard and share the same interest. I will never forget this experience!” 

STN was a wonderful opportunity for the students. They had extra excursions and got to network with over 2,500 students. I’m so proud of them! Jennifer Suzuki, Maui Waena, Media Teacher, Coordinator STEMworks AFTERschool Program

Introducing Girls to Engineering

Introducing Girls to Engineering

Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) STEMworks™ recently led its 21st annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED). Held in conjunction with National Engineering Week, IGED helps to build and strengthen Hawaii’s workforce by encouraging girls, women, and underrepresented groups into STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education and careers.

“Virtually every field in every sector of the economy is needing STEM professionals—people who are literate and fluent in various technology subjects,” said Leslie Wilkins, MEDB President and CEO. “To meet this need, STEMworks empowers our youth to be self-directed learners, to be resilient, to stay current and be adaptive to change, and, most importantly, to have the confidence that they can succeed.”

Designed to create interest in the field of engineering, IGED inspired over 50 middle-school-aged girls from across Maui County to pursue engineering and technology careers and raised awareness of the contributions engineers make to the community. “This memorable day-long event included an educational video showcasing the various types of engineering careers, as well as a fun, hands-on engineering activity,” said Katie Taladay, STEMworks Program Manager. “It is important for STEMworks to provide and develop innovative community-based events, such as IGED, which are designed to plan for Hawaii’s future generations.”

Due to the global pandemic, this year the IGED event was virtual, free, and open to 6th – 8th grade girls. The agenda included a welcome with helpful information about STEM opportunities, and panel discussions followed by breakout sessions with female engineers and female students majoring in engineering. The speakers shared the pathway into their careers, role models they had, and challenges they faced. Each participant who registered ahead of time was mailed a kit to create a robot circuit popup card.During this activity, students learned about the engineering design process, simple circuits and problem solving.

Wilkins added, “STEMworks continues to train students as well as teachers in industry-standard software and engineering design practices using hands-on curriculum, regional conferences, and workshops. We work with educators, industry partners and the community to build a thriving STEM education-to-workforce pipeline throughout Hawaii. We are making a difference!”

The Mayor of Maui made an official proclamation for February 25th to be IGED Day for Maui County. Ashely Otomo, a professional civil engineer; Alyza Leyva, a student from Maui Waena; and I met the mayor to accept the proclamation

Leslie Wilkins, MEDB, President and CEO
AG Internship Showcase

AG Internship Showcase

Through the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) STEMworks™ Ag Business & Technology Internship program, students in grades 9-12 and college undergraduates have the opportunity to gain experience in multiple industries within the agriculture sector of the economy to find their interests, build their resume, and become career ready.

“During this time, our STEMworks interns are busy using industry-standard technologies to develop a service-learning project to improve their community,” said Britney James, STEMworks Agriculture Program Specialist. “The program is designed to prepare students with real-world, hands-on career exposure, college and employability skill-building opportunities, and industry networking experiences. Along the way, interns worked tirelessly on creative and critical thinking as well as their professional and software skills.”

James added, “The students who participated in the recent Internship Program gained many workforce readiness skills, including time management, having to balance full-time school and the internship. Some of them even had a second job! They are all exceptional individuals and I am excited to say that many of them now plan to pursue careers in agriculture after participating in this internship.”

“The showcase featured 11 interns from seven host companies with eight mentors,” explained Aileen Kim, Baldwin High School 9th grader. “I interned at WaiPono Farm at the University of Hawaii Maui College Sustainable Living Institute where I learned aquaponics and hydroponics greenhouse. During this time, I was able to raise tilapia fish and grow community resources, while also learning about the systems which help create a healthy life for both our fish and plants. Our greenhouse grows community resources such as bok choy, lettuce, tomatoes and zucchini, and shares these resources with others.” 

Lei’ohu Turley, Seabury Hall 11th grader, reflected on her experience, “My internship was at Noho’ana Farm, an energy self-sufficient, family-run farm situated on two acres of kuleana (privileged responsibility) land. Along with kalo, other important Hawaiian crops are cultivated at the farm using traditional, sustainable, and organic farming practices. I learned about irrigation and water resource management, using farm equipment, and planting and harvesting crops. Now, I also have a deeper appreciation for cultural values and environmental issues.”

I hope to continue my internship. Mahalo to STEMworks and Noho’ana Farm for this opportunity! Lei’ohu Turley, Seabury Hall student

Student Space Exploration Day

Student Space Exploration Day

One hundred and fifty middle school students and their STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) educators were welcomed by the Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies (AMOS) Conference on September 30 at the Wailea Beach Resort-Marriott. The conference and the Space Exploration Student Session, presented by Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) thrilled attendees who got to meet astronaut Scott “Scooter” Altman and experience hands-on, space-related presentations by the AMOS exhibitors.

Altman, a retired United States Navy Captain and naval aviator, engineer, test pilot and former NASA astronaut, is a veteran of four Space Shuttle missions. Before retiring from NASA, his final mission was servicing the Hubble Space Telescope. He is also known for his aerial acrobatics in the 1986 Top Gun movie with Tom Cruise.

“It is an honor to be here at AMOS,” Altman said. “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. The students in this age group are our future. Maybe someone here today will be the first one on Mars.”

‘Iolani Kuoha, Vice-Principal of Molokai Middle School, noted, “To greet astronaut Altman, our students performed an oli lei presentation traditionally given to honor visitors. They enjoyed all of the different companies at AMOS, and the various careers they represent. They will go back to the classroom so inspired by all of today’s activities.” 

Healohameleleināhōkū Merino, Moloka’i Middle School 8th grade, said, “The exhibits and experiments inspired me to learn more about the world and what I can do to improve it. I really enjoyed the flight simulator at Civil Air Patrol too!”

Kaimalie Stone, Molokai Middle School student, added, “Astronaut Altman showed us a video of his time in space and explained how dangerous space debris is for the Space Station and other satellites. At the SAIC STEM Project in the exhibit hall, we learned there is so much man-made debris floating around that can cause problems for astronauts, satellites, and other important pieces of equipment circling Earth. It made me realize my generation is also responsible for making space safe.”

From space, the earth is an incredible organism. I saw the edge of the horizon. The thin blue line, the atmosphere, holding everything that keeps us alive. It brought on feelings of stewardship, sustainability, and respect for the planet.

Scott Altman, U.S. Navy Capt., NASA Astronaut, retired