Focus on science, finance prepares student to conserve natural resources, culture

Born and raised in Maunalua on the island of Oʻahu, Tehani Malterre attended Kamehameha Schools and began to reconnect with Hawaiian culture and with ʻāina (land, that which nourishes). With a passion for protecting the environment in Hawai‘i, she learned during her senior in high school that the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) offers a program that was a great fit for her interests—the Global Environmental Science (GES) bachelor’s degree.

Now in her senior year of the GES program, Malterre said, “I enjoy being able to learn the science behind the environmental issues that affect us here in Hawaiʻi while also being able to remain connected with my home.”

Malterre is enrolled in the bachelor’s and master’s pathway program wherein she is pursuing a master’s of science in finance while finishing her GES degree.

“Understanding the financial implications of climate change while also having a background in environmental science is very important for understanding the human dimensions of planning for and adapting to our future,” said Malterre. “In addition to increasing my own financial literacy and understanding of the systems that we live in, this degree can be applied to a variety of important issues such as understanding the costs to coastal infrastructure as a result of climate change, helping local businesses to protect and increase island food sustainability, or even working with community organizations to finance restoration and conservation projects.”

Environmental science, food security and local business

For her senior thesis in the GES program, Malterre is working with Henrietta Dulai, professor in the SOEST Department of Earth Sciences. They are looking at water quality at Sumida Farm, which is a popular watercress farm in ʻAiea. The farm is primarily fed through freshwater springs and it is unique because it is located in a highly urbanized setting. Previous studies there showed that despite the farm being surrounded by urban development, the springs provide very clean water, free of pollutants usually expected from urban runoff. 

Malterre’s study is aiming to confirm that the surrounding urbanization has little effect on the farm by analyzing water samples collected over a time span of a year. She will also compare these findings to rainfall patterns to see if precipitation is contributing to any runoff that can affect the water quality. So far results show excellent conditions, confirming that the availability of clean, fresh water is the basis of the success of the farm that has been operating over many decades.

“Something that really interests me in this research is that it provides the opportunity to better understand potential threats that are affecting our food sources and food sustainability, something that is incredibly important in Hawai‘i and that we should be trying to expand,” said Malterre. “This project also has the potential to help a local business, which is something I am excited about.”

National internship opportunities

Malterre was selected for the NOAA Hollings Preparations Program, a training program that guides first-year college students through a research project, offers professional development, and prepares them to be competitive candidates for other NOAA internship opportunities. For Malterre’s project in the summer of 2020, she created a virtual reality tour of the NOAA Inouye Regional Center on Ford Island in Honolulu.

“I gained new skills in using virtual reality software, which was really exciting, met so many people and learned about the work that they do with NOAA,” said Malterre. “My summer mentors were so awesome and we still keep in touch to this day.”

In 2021, Malterre was selected for NOAA’s Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions program, which includes internships during two consecutive summers. During Malterre’s second summer in the program, she worked with the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Charleston, Oregon. Through learning how to use ArcGIS, a suite of powerful GIS programs and software, she created a map of areas in the uplands watershed forest of the reserve that could provide suitable habitat for beaked hazel, which is a plant species that is culturally significant to the local Native peoples and tribes.

“The reserve is trying to revegetate native and culturally significant plants within the reserve uplands forest because in the past century, the forest was harvested for timber, which contributed to crowding and homogeneity in the forest,” said Malterre. “The reserve is thinning out some areas in the forest and planting important plant species like beaked hazel to increase the biodiversity of the forest while also restoring populations of plants that are culturally significant within the reserve so that the reserve can host these important natural resources. This summer internship was an amazing experience.”

Malterre will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree from GES at the end of spring 2023. After that, she is on track to graduate with a Master’s degree in finance in spring 2024. She is interested in continuing with school to study ecosystems ecology or conservation biology and possibly pursue a doctoral degree.

“Ultimately I want to be able to live and work in Hawaiʻi and contribute to the conservation and preservation of our natural resources, culture, and native species, especially in the face of climate change,” said Malterre. “I also want to be able to give back to the land and communities that raised me.”