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IfA Joins Akamai Workforce Initiative

Akamai Internships Poster
The Akamai 2008 recruitment poster. Art by Sarah Anderson.

The Akamai Workforce Initiative (AWI) is a partnership between the Center for Adaptive Optics (CfAO), Maui Community College (MCC), the IfA, and the Maui Economic Development Board. Its purpose is to give Maui students the opportunity to enter a wide range of science, technology, and engineering careers that are increasingly available on Maui.

Since 2003, these organizations have collaborated on the Akamai Internship Program, which that has placed more than 50 Hawaii college students in paid high-technology summer internships on Maui. Forty percent of former Akamai students are now working in the technology industry, and another 45 percent are continuing their college education in science or technology, a very high rate of success. The internships are open to undergraduate students who attend college in Hawaii or are Hawaii residents attending school on the mainland. Members of groups who are underrepresented in the science and technology fields, including women and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, are especially encouraged to apply.

The interns start with the five-day Akamai Short Course in general optical principles and adaptive optics taught at MCC. Each intern is matched with a research advisor, is treated as a member of the advisor's research group, and receives daily guidance from a research supervisor. Akamai staff work with the interns on such skills as preparing a resume, abstract writing, and preparing a poster to present at a meeting. Places where internship opportunities have been available include the IfA, Oceanit, the Maui High Performance Computing Center, and the Pacific Disaster Center.

AWI, an expansion of the internship program, will also include the development of a new electro-optics course of study at MCC, outreach into high schools, and a new teaching collaborative that will bring cutting-edge technology and teaching methods into MCC classes.

Electro-optics is a branch of physics that deals with how electric fields affect light and the optical properties of substances. Maui's growing astronomy, optics, telecommunications, and remote-sensing industries are in need of a workforce trained for this field, so MCC will expand its course offerings to meet this need. IfA, under the leadership of Associate Director for Maui Jeff Kuhn, will play a key role in bringing the most current technology into MCC's new courses.

In addition to integrating current technology into new curriculum, the partnership between the IfA and the CfAO includes an opportunity for IfA graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to improve their teaching skills. The CfAO Professional Development Program (PDP) trains scientists and engineers in innovative teaching and mentoring strategies, including getting them into classes to co-teach with college faculty. This March, six IfA graduate students and postdocs participated in the PDP, which trained them in teaching methods and matched them with classes where they will teach their own, newly developed instructional units. Three graduate students will be part of the new Teaching and Curriculum Collaborative (TeCC) that is working with MCC to develop new electro-optics courses. They are currently designing lab units on spectrometer design, charge-coupled devices, and digital image files for an instrumentation course to be taught at MCC this fall. Another three will be teaching in the Akamai Short Course, which prepares undergraduate interns for their coming summer research projects. These three are working on lab units about adaptive optics, optics of lenses, color and light, and cameras that will be taught at the end of May.

"I think the Akamai PDP program is all about teaching our students how to teach, to get them beyond the bad habits that we, the older generation of physicists and astronomers, have picked up. This program leads the way to fundamental changes in our attitudes toward the importance of teaching and increasing the diversity of ideas in both our research and education programs," says Kuhn.

CfAO, headquartered at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is one of the Science and Technology Centers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Its mission is to bring adaptive optics, a method of sharpening the images produced by optical systems, such as telescopes, cameras, and the human eye, to maturity. CfAO has also supported internship programs on the mainland and on the island of Hawaii. The latter program places students at the various observatories on Mauna Kea and has also been extremely successful.

AWI is made possible by grants from NSF and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, ongoing funding from the CfAO, as well as funding from University of Hawaii. IfA is also making in-kind donations, including an office and personnel time to assist Lisa Hunter, project director of the AWI. Hunter holds a joint position with the CfAO and the IfA, and splits her time between Santa Cruz and Maui to lead the initiative.

For more information about the AWI, contact Lisa Hunter at 808-573-9542 or