EP‘IK summer program paves path for Hawai‘i’s future geoscientists

To help recruit and prepare an emerging generation of geoscientists in Hawai‘i, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa hosted 13 high school students and 2 teachers from across O‘ahu during an engaging two-week summer program that included classroom lectures, laboratory experiments and field activities.

Bridget Smith-Konter, program coordinator and professor of Earth Sciences in the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) described the aim of the Earth, Planets, ‘Ike, and Kuleana (EP‘IK) Summer Program as to develop a meaningful and sustainable educational pathway for local students that provides Earth and planetary science learning opportunities while emphasizing ‘ike Hawai‘i (Hawaiian knowledge) and kuleana (responsibility). Additionally, the program addresses the growing need to diversify the geosciencesand builds upon existing strengths at UH Mānoa.

In this third year of the program, students learned about deep ocean volcanism, the solar system and much in between, including earthquakes, beach dynamics, climate change, and water resources. Through hands-on experiments, computer modeling, data analysis, and field excursions around UH Mānoa and O‘ahu, the activities emphasized critical thinking and inquiry-based learning, and incorporated place-based aspects of Hawaiian geology and Native Hawaiian culture.  

“After participating in EP‘IK summer I am much more enthusiastic about pursuing a career as a scientist,” said one EP‘IK student. “[Prior] to this program, I had little insight into the world of geoscience and only had experience in lab-like settings. This program helped me to see that different careers in geoscience were extremely enticing such as going out to beaches to survey the sand erosion, or conducting research in the deep sea, or even surveying and creating maps of different areas and climates.”

Each theme of the program connected traditional knowledge as a way to provide accurate and relatable commonalities between Earth science and Native Hawaiian knowledge and practices.

“Our team of more than 15 instructors thoughtfully developed place- and culture- based lessons and activities that were very engaging to students,” said Alyssa Anderson, EP‘IK Summer program manager and SOEST researcher. “It was wonderful to see this younger generation’s enthusiasm for learning about the unique setting of the Hawaiian Islands.”

“After participating in the EP‘IK summer I heavily believe that both kuleana and ‘ike Hawai‘i are part of science,” said another student participant. “Kuleana, or responsibility, is key for helping maintain the environment. Additionally, I believe that ‘ike Hawaiʻi can be an important part of science. Through the EP‘IK program we were able to relate many scientific phenomena and practices to Hawaiian culture and practices. For instance, learning that each region on O‘ahu had different names for rain in each area tied into science as different areas also had different climates and elevations that would influence the rain. It seemed that for every rock, weather event, or types of lava flow there was a Hawaiian name and story.”

Successful mission

The first summer that EP‘IK was set to run was 2020. Coinciding with the global pandemic, this timing forced the program to become completely virtual. By developing creative solutions and reimagining the program activities, the 2020 EP‘IK summer program offered an engaging an enriching experience for participants from across the Hawaiian Islands.

EP‘IK Summer teamed up with UHM researchers and the Voice of the Sea television show to participate in a remote oceanographic cruise via the research vessel Kilo Moana to explore the abyssal plains north of the Hawaiian Islands. The Voice of the Sea episode Virtually Exploring the Abyssal Plains captured it all.

In 2021, the second year of EP‘IK, most of the lessons were presented virtually, but in-person field trips to various locations on O‘ahu were added.

One participating student from O‘ahu, Kimberly Martin, has wanted to be a scientist for as long as she can remember. Through the EP‘IK program, she learned about the academic and research opportunities at UH Mānoa and after high school graduation, enrolled as an undergraduate majoring in Earth Sciences.

A program such as EP‘IK helps students become knowledgeable about geosciences and highlights connections to their own places and Hawai‘i’s rich culture and history. The hope is that students discover theirpassion and see a path toward making that a career and giving back to their communities in Hawai‘i.