The annual Ke Alahele Education Fund Benefit Dinner raised an estimated $320,000 to support Maui Economic Development Board and STEM education programs in Hawaiʻi. Nearly 500 guests attended this year’s event, held on Sept. 1 at the Grand Wailea Resort.
The evening showcased Maui County’s STEM stars and their accomplishments in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.
Iolani Kuoha of Molokaʻi Middle Hawaiian Immersion School (pictured on far left), Emily Haines Swatek of King Kekaulike High School (pictured second from right), and Cindel Jacintho of Lānaʻi Elementary & High (not pictured) were named recipients of the inaugural Czechowicz Award.
New to the event was the presentation of the Czechowicz Award, created by two former teachers Lesley and Pawel Czechowicz in honor of their mothers. This year’s award recognized three exceptional STEMworks™ facilitators in Maui Nui: Cindel Jacintho of Lānaʻi Elementary and High School’s after school program, ʻIolani Kuoha of ʻO Hina I Ka Mālama, Molokaʻi Middle Hawaiian Immersion School, and Emily Haines Swatek of King Kekaulike High School.
As winners of the Czechowicz Award each received $5,000 to use as they please anywhere outside of the classroom.
Jacintho has been a valued addition to the extensive STEM education programs MEDB has supported on Lānaʻi over many years. Through her leadership and passion, Lānaʻi students have access to industry training and the newest technologies through MEDB’s STEMworks™ AFTERschool program.
Kuoha has been leading her island of Molokaʻi in STEM education for over a decade. Event organizers say she is incredibly dedicated, loves to integrate STEM and the Hawaiian culture, and provides endless opportunities for her students to engage and grow as young STEM leaders.
For 18 years, Haines Swatek continues to mentor her students to become self-directed learners, and guides them to utilize their STEM gifts to have a meaningful impact on their communities and world. Haines Swatek’s students and lab have been recipients of national awards, the Daniel K. Inouye Innovation Award, including numerous Hawaiʻi STEM Conference Project Impact Assessment awards for their community service projects.
Leslie Wilkins, President and CEO of MEDB, shared about this year’s winners, “We couldn’t be prouder of these deserving individuals. Not only do they inspire their students by providing a rich and nurturing learning environment, but they continue to encourage our islands’ youth to use their STEM skills to give back by developing projects which serve their communities.”
During the dinner program, students also had an opportunity to share their love of STEM.
“If I were to describe the power of STEM for me personally it would be growth and opportunity,” said Yasha Ronquillo, Maui High School alumni and STEMworks™ Intern. “The Internship Program had the most impact on me. Within six weeks I networked with students and STEM industry professionals that I still keep contact with today; I was able to make more videos, share stories, and enhance my digital media skills; and learn about the many career opportunities STEM has to offer.”
“I loved being a part of the Pukalani Elementary’s STEMworks™ AFTERschool program,” said Josie Naleieha-Vierra. “While in the program I was part of the STEM Imagineers Robotics team and got to be a programmer and STEM researcher. It was so exciting and challenging to design, build and program robots and I sure learned how to have dedication and persevere through the toughest of times.”
Jeffrey Ho, a 4th grader at Pukalani School, enthusiastically shared, “I’ve been a part of the STEMworks™ AFTERschool program for two years and have been exposed to robots, orzobots, coding, digital media, CAD, 3D pens and printing, and more! These experiences have helped me gain leadership skills and confidence.”
The culmination of the evening, was the presentation of the Daniel K. Inouye Innovation Award, the highest student award MEDB presents. This year, the award went to 2018 King Kekaulike graduate, Justin Hanks.
Hanks has been a member of our STEMworks™ program since attending middle school at Kalama Intermediate. Over the years he participated in Industry Day, the Hawaii STEM Conference, Cybersercurity competitions. He spent several years as a STEMworks Intern, and during this summer’s program created an innovative temperature and moisture probe with user interface. He was responsible for creating STEM camps at Kula Elementary, Makawao Elementary, and Pukalani Elementary; and was able to integrate the amazing resources and skills he learned in the STEMworks™ program to promote innovation and creativity into the camps offered to inspire our future STEM stars.
Hanks is attending Digipen College this fall in Washington State. He’s the oldest of nine siblings and plans to be the first in his family – siblings, parents and grandparents – to graduate from college.
Hanks will receive $5,000 to further his education; and in recognition of creating an outstanding learning environment, King Kekalike High School will receive $5,000 to upgrade their STEMworks™ lab.
“Each year, we were humbled to hear so many inspiring stories of how STEM opportunities and experiences have touched lives,” said Ryan Churchill, MEDB Board President. “We thank all those who have contributed and played a role in our youth’s love of STEM. It’s truly an investment that has the power to come full circle, helping to shape our leaders of tomorrow and ensuring a bright future for our islands.”