THINK Fund surpases 100-scholarship milestone

  • Tribune-Herald file photo Thirty Meter Telescope Manager of Hawaii Community Affairs Sandra Dawson smiles in her office April 3, 2014, at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory Hilo building.

A fund established by the Thirty Meter Telescope that awards scholarships to Big Island science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, students has granted more than 100 scholarships during the past four years.

Hawaii New Knowledge Fund — or THINK Fund — has awarded 105 college scholarships to Big Island students through the Hawaii Community Foundation since 2015, TMT announced earlier this week.

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In total, those scholarships add up to more than $670,000 for students at 22 different Big Island high schools, said Sandra Dawson, TMT’s manager for Hawaii community affairs.

Eric Hagiwara, math teacher at Waiakea High School, said the scholarships helped several of his students enter careers in STEM fields.

“They still talk to us often,” Hagiwara said. “They come back every year or so and talk to our students about the importance of STEM education.

Students at Waiakea High School have received 14 THINK Fund scholarships since 2014, the most of any school on the island. Other high-performing schools include Honokaa, Kamehameha and Hilo high schools, which received 12, 11 and 10 scholarships, respectively.

Hagiwara said the THINK Fund also provides funding to school science programs around the island, such as Waiakea’s robotics team which he co-mentors, leading to a high number of students interested in STEM education.

“Schools are always trying to get grants,” Hagiwara said. “But companies, they like to give grants to schools where their kids go. Since we don’t have a Boeing or whatever here on the Big Island, we’re out of luck. We wouldn’t get that money.”

The 105 scholarships that have been disbursed through the Hawaii Community Foundation are separate from those administered through the Pauahi Foundation. Dawson said TMT awards scholarships through both foundations, although those awarded through the Pauahi Foundation are granted only to Native Hawaiian students and provide funds for a four-year college term.

Dawson said the THINK Fund has awarded 33 scholarships through the Pauahi Foundation since 2015.

Hagiwara said despite opposition to TMT among many Native Hawaiians, he thinks support for science education is a way of respecting Hawaiian culture.

Hagiwara said he was inspired by the voyaging canoe Hokule‘a, which is piloted using traditional Polynesian navigation techniques.

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“I was amazed by how the Hawaiian people could navigate so effectively just by watching the stars,” Hagiwara said. “Science and astronomy has always been a huge part of that culture.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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