GCC and UH collaborate to reduce STEM barriers

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Guam Community College

Recently, representatives from islands across the Pacific gathered on Guam to develop approaches to increase participation of Pacific islanders in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields.

Joni Quenga Kerr, associate professor of science at Guam Community College, and Dr. Michael Hadfield, Professor of Biology Emeritus, University of Hawaii at Manoa, were awarded a collaborative grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund a two-day workshop entitled, “Reducing Cultural Barriers to STEM for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.” The workshop took place July 17-18 at the Holiday Resort & Spa in Tumon.

Now more than ever, Kerr and Hadfield noted that Pacific island nations require knowledge and skills to deal with environmental changes that threaten their lands.

“Pacific Islanders, including Native Hawaiians, are one of four ethnic groups recognized by the U.S. National Science Foundation as badly underrepresented in members trained professionally in science and math,” said Hadfield. “Yet, with the very earth and ocean changing around them, the peoples of the Pacific Islands are at the forefront of climate change and thus urgently in need of people from their own cultures trained to recognize and determine ways to cope with climate-change effects,” he added.

A similar workshop held in Honolulu, Hawaii in June 2016, revealed that cultural influences, such as chief systems, religion, and family ties and obligations, often affected students’ willingness to enter and to progress in completing STEM college degrees.

“We continued the discussion to understand cultural aspects that hinder students seeking STEM degrees, and looked at ways to develop practical, applicable, and most of all acceptable ways that encourage community support for these students,” said Kerr. “These are sensitive issues, so it was very important for us to identify participants who have sway or influence in their communities.”

GCC and UH hosted 18 participants from Hawaii, American Samoa, Yap, Pohnpei, Kosrae, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Rota, Saipan, and Guam at the workshop, including a mayor, senator, leaders of non-governmental organizations, teachers, and cultural practitioners. Also assisting with the workshop were Dawn Chang, a professional facilitator from Hawaii, and Amanda Simcox from the NSF.

Photo Caption:

Guam Community College and the University of Hawaii hosted a two-day workshop on July 17-18, 2017, at the Holiday Resort & Spa, to discuss ways to encourage study in the STEM fields among Pacific island nations. Present at the workshop were, from left: Dr. Anthony Jay Sunga, GCC; Dr. Amanda Simcox, National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C.; Dr. Michael Hadfield, Univ. of Hawaii Manoa; Edna Noga, American Samoa STEM Partners; Molly Lagai, American Samoa Community College; Vanessa Fread, RARE, Pohnpei/Yap, FSM; Betty Sigrah, Micronesian Conservation Trust, Kosrae, FSM; Umai Basilius, Palau Conservation Society; Menoleen Jacob, GEAR-UP, Pohnpei, FSM; Sabina Perez, Simon Sanchez High School, Guam; Dawn Chang, Facilitator, Hawaii; Manning Taite, NALU, Hawaii; Dr. Marjorie Cushing Falanruw, USFS Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, Yap, FSM; Senator Paul Manglona, Rota, CNMI; Dr. Kiana Frank, University of Hawaii, Manoa; Kaʻanohi Aipa, Hawaiian Cultural Resource Specialist; Robert Deleon Guerrero, Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, Saipan, CNMI; Mayor John Kaiko, Wotje Atoll, Marshall Islands; and Joni Quenga Kerr, GCC.

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