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Maui Workforce Development and Engineering Technology Program

Akamai poster

The National Science Foundation has announced that it is awarding a five-year, $2.8 million grant to the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy to support the Akamai Workforce Initiative (AWI) to prepare Hawaii college students for science and technology jobs available on Maui and across the state of Hawaii, with an emphasis on jobs related to astronomy, remote sensing, and instrumentation. The grant will continue the established partnership between the Institute for Astronomy, the Center for Adaptive Optics, and Maui Community College.

AWI will include paid high-technology summer internships, new courses in engineering technology at MCC, outreach to high schools, and a program that helps scientists and engineers become better educators. The precursor to AWI, the Akamai program, has enticed more than 80 percent of its students over the last decade to remain in technology jobs or continue their education. All students in the Akamai program have ties to Hawaii, 80 percent were either born in Hawaii or graduated from a Hawaii high school, and about 25 percent of them are Native Hawaiian.

The grant will enable the AWI to build on a program that has been developed during the last decade through funding by the NSF Center for Adaptive Optics at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) in partnership with the IfA, MCC, the Air Force, the Maui Economic Development Board, local Maui industry partners, and Mauna Kea Observatories on Hawaii. In addition to the NSF, the UH, the Air Force, and the TMT Observatory Corporation have also been major contributors to the program. The training program integrates the technical and research expertise of faculty and graduate students from the IfA with practical high-tech work experience.

The MCC Engineering Technology program will be developed collaboratively with the IfA and the Institute for Scientist & Engineer Educator (ISEE) at UCSC, will include cutting-edge technology, and will engage local scientists and engineers in formulating and teaching the curriculum. The curriculum will include a strong emphasis on problem solving, communication, teamwork, and other professional skills that will ensure students are successful when they enter the workforce. It will build on the unique strengths and needs of the Maui community, and attract and retain students from a broader range of backgrounds than is currently present in tech fields.

The grant's principal investigator, Lisa Hunter, is director of the ISEE at UCSC and director of the AWI at IfA Maui. Hunter stated, "After many years of working with community partners, the tech industry on Maui and observatories on Hawaii Island to identify skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the workforce, we are now positioned to help create an innovative, culturally relevant Engineering Technology Program at MCC that will become a long-term pathway for local students to get tech jobs in Hawaii."

IfA Associate Director for Maui Jeff Kuhn said, "With MCC, the Institute for Astronomy is committed to improving technology education on Maui. It's just the right thing to do, and is our shortest path to a self-sufficient future on this island."  MCC Engineering Technology Director Mark Hoffman added, "Our program will have an enormous effect on MCC engineering technology students, who have traditionally been major participants in the AWI program, and are now working in tech jobs on Maui."

ISEE prepares science and engineering graduate students for their educational role as future faculty members and a wide range of other science and engineering careers requiring teaching skills. It is based on a decade of educational projects originated by the Center for Adaptive Optics at UCSC.

Adaptive optics is used in astronomy to compensate for the distortion of celestial objects by turbulence in Earth's atmosphere.