$425,000 gift saves state science fair


POSTED: Saturday, May 08, 2010

The flight to San Jose for 23 Hawaii students in an international competition in California yesterday turned into a celebration of a $425,000 gift that keeps the state science fair alive.

Lt. Gov. James R. “;Duke”; Aiona Jr. announced the funding for the fair and other Hawaii Academy of Science activities before the district and state Science and Engineering Fair winners boarded a plane yesterday for San Jose, Calif., headed for the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair.

The academy appealed for funds in March after the financially strapped Legislature ended support last year.

Academy President Gareth Wynn-Williams, University of Hawaii astronomer, said the organization thought it would not be able to continue the science fair, but it has received a lot of support from the community and now from the state and federal government.

Aiona said the funding is available as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress. He presented the check in a ceremony in the Governor's Office attended by some of the science winners, family members and science mentors.

; He said the administration believes Hawaii's economy has been overly dependent on land development and that it should be oriented more toward human innovation and knowledge.

The educational system needs to significantly increase high school graduates with problem-solving and analytical skills, he said. “;We believe the science and engineering fair achieves this.”;

The 23 top district and state winners going to the international fair will compete with 1,500 young scientists from 50 countries.

“;My personal opinion is to cut funding from a program like this is very shortsighted and it's not visionary,”; Aiona said.

Nolan Kamitaki, a Waiakea High School senior who has taken top honors in the state fair for six years, said nothing has contributed more to his education and personal growth than that event.

The Big Island youth took second place this year for the third year in the senior research category and has been named with Caitlin Mori of Sacred Hearts Academy High School as 2010 U.S. Presidential Scholars.

Wynn-Williams said the academy's board is enthusiastic about expanding science education opportunities, such as teacher training in schools, mentor programs and strengthening district fairs.

Wynn-Williams noted Dr. Neal Atebara in the audience, a 1982 Waiakea High graduate who won science fair competition with an astronomy project. “;I invited him to Manoa to an astronomy conference,”; Wynn-Williams said. “;It had a big effect on him. He went to Yale, then Harvard Medical School, and most important, he came back to Hawaii as a retinal surgeon at the Queen's Medical Center.”;