Grant boosts astronomy intern jobs


POSTED: Sunday, August 09, 2009

Increased internships to prepare Hawaii students for jobs related to telescopes and the technology industry on Maui and across the state will be offered under a $2.8 million grant to the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.

It is the latest in a series of National Science Foundation grants for the Akamai Workforce Initiative conducted by the astronomy institute, Maui Community College and the Center for Adaptive Optics at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Lisa Hunter, principal investigator for the five-year grant, said the Akamai initiative, which just finished its seventh year, has placed 68 college-level students in high-tech positions or summer internships. All have Hawaii connections and many are from Maui, she said.

“;We offer opportunities for students who grew up on Maui but are studying on the mainland so they have a chance to complete their degree and hopefully come home and have a job in Hawaii,”; she said.

Jeff Kuhn, Institute for Astronomy associate director for Maui, said the program connects the research focus of the Institute for Astronomy with broader education emphasis, he said, “;so it's a good mix.”;

The program has “;an enormous success rate”; with more than 80 percent of the students becoming involved in education or jobs related to technology,”; Kuhn said.

Hunter said the new grant will allow expansion of the internships, and the Akamai program will work with Maui Community College on a four-year engineering technology degree program.

“;Maui is the best place for that because of job possibilities, and the particular (Akamai) partnership enabled it,”; she said.

Hunter, director of both the Akamai program at the astronomy institute on Maui and the Institute for Scientist & Engineer Educator at the California university, said there are many opportunities for students to get technology-related jobs “;fairly quickly”; on Maui.

“;Companies are looking to hire; they're looking for entry-level students going through programs.

“;They're really interested in local students,”; she said, pointing out it's expensive to recruit employees from the mainland and difficult to retain them.