One of the most important benefits of building the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii is the project’s support of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — STEM — education for local students.

In 2014, TMT launched The Hawaii Island New Knowledge (THINK) Fund to better prepare Hawaii Island students to master STEM and thrive in the in 21st-century economy.

TMT’s THINK Fund benefits Hawaii Island students pursuing STEM education by contributing $1 million a year in scholarships and grants awarded via the Hawaii Community Foundation and Pauahi Foundation. THINK puts emphasis on improving opportunities for Native Hawaiian students, not as an exclusive preference, but focusing on the needs of Hawaii’s host culture.

Since 2015, THINK Fund at HCF has benefitted 26,000 students and 1,000 teachers through support of STEM education on Hawaii Island. More than $2.2 million in grants have been awarded to innovative STEM programs and activities, including $747,000 by TMT through THINK Fund at HCF.

Observatories atop Mauna Kea. Besides being the most powerful and highly elevated of any of the big telescopes, the TMT would also benefits students, the author states. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

THINK Fund at HCF has also committed $250,000 to support STEM projects in Hawaii Island classrooms. College scholarships have been awarded to 56 Hawaii Island students totaling over $330,000. TMT also led the STEM Learning Partnership which attracted additional THINK Fund donors such as the National Science Foundation.

In his re-election inaugural address, Gov. David Ige stressed the need to diversify Hawaii’s economy and move away from reliance on tourism. He believes the next great transformation of Hawaii’s economy will be enabled by technology, affirming his support for TMT.

The Akamai Program

TMT is also a major funder of the Akamai Workforce Initiative, providing college students with summer internships at observatories and high-tech companies in Hawaii. The program fosters advanced education for Hawaii students (80 percent graduated from a Hawaii high school or were born in Hawaii), and increased participation of underrepresented and underserved populations in STEM.

Since 2003, more than 350 students have benefitted from the Akamai program with about 150 alumni currently working in science and technology jobs, including nearly two-thirds of them working in Hawaii and contributing to the local STEM workforce. This effort is supported by other members of the Astronomy District on Maunakea including the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and W.M. Keck Observatory.

The esteemed late U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka believed Mauna Kea is sacred, yet he also said the Thirty Meter Telescope should be built on it. He expressed strong support for TMT in his memoir, “One Voice: My Life, Times and Hopes for Hawaii.”

Besides educational opportunities, Akaka felt that the TMT will help Native Hawaiians reconnect with their culture and past by expanding knowledge of the stars and universe. “It’s part of the culture to search and look for new places.”

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