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West // West Oahu Coverstory
MidWeek Staff

Area Firm Funds LCC Scholarships

By CHRISTINA O’CONNOR

Kapolei-based company North Star Scientific Corporation donated $75,000 to Leeward Community College last month to fund scholarships for full- time and part-time students who are pursuing a degree in the science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) fields, or a teaching degree in those fields.

“The North Star Scientific Scholarship will significantly help Leeward CC recruit and retain students by reducing their overall costs of attendance, such as tuition and fees, and making higher education possible for students who may not have otherwise been able to afford college,” said Aileen Lum-Akana of LCC’s financial aid office.

North Star Scientific designs, develops and tests high-performance electronics for land-based, ship- based and airborne Department of Defense applications.

With LCC located near North Star Scientific, the college’s STEM students are the company’s potential future employees. And LCC also is where two of the three North Star Scientific co-founders, Robert and Sharmaine Swisher, got their start.

North Star vice president and COO Robert Swisher and CFO Sharmaine Swisher met while attending LCC. Both were first-generation, non-traditional students who had taken some time off before returning to school. They both attribute LCC ― with its small classes and dedicated professors ― to their academic successes.

“We finally decided to take that leap and try college, and Leeward was such a nurturing environ- ment for us, and we kind of needed that,” said Robert. “We were just giving it a shot for the first couple of semesters, and we really just excelled in that environment.”

“We were eating pizza out in the parking lot one day, and we said ‘hey, one day if we ever ‘make it,’ let’s think about giving back to this institution,’” explained Sharmaine.

Sharmaine later earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at UH Manoa, and Robert went on to graduate with a bachelor’s in physics, fol- lowed by a master’s degree in electrical engineering from UH Manoa. In 2001, the two created North Star Scientific with co- founder Dr. James Stamm, who serves as the com- pany’s president and CEO.

The company established the North Star Scientific Scholarship in 2009 with a $30,000 dona- tion. Since then, the scholarship has benefited 26 students, many of whom were graduates of area high schools including Aiea, Campbell, Pearl City and Waipahu. Last month’s donation will build upon this fund.

“We were hoping to just touch some of the lives in these communities,” Sharmaine said.

Students applying for the scholarship must be a Hawaii resident and maintain a minimum of a 3.0 GPA. Financial need also is taken into consideration. Preference is given to first-generation college students and to those pursuing a STEM degree over those pursuing a STEM teaching degree. Applicants also must submit a personal statement of their career goals.

“This is something that will help (students) out to go ahead and transition into the four-year degree,” Robert said. “It makes good business sense, too, because I like to say that we are sort of seeding our backyard,” he added. “We are focusing on stu- dents who are in our community on the West side. And most of our employee force lives around the Kapolei area.”

“We were non-traditional students ourselves, so we wanted to make sure those part-time students had the opportunity to find a scholarship that they could qualify for,” Sharmaine added.

“The service that (LCC) gives to the community is really just an incredible thing. It makes such a difference with people,” Robert said.

“We are trying to help along these STEM students,” he added. “We really are trying to give … students who have never pursued (academics) an opportunity.”

LCC hopes to award at least 10 students with a $1000 scholarship each year. The application deadline for this school year has closed. Scholarship deadlines for the 2013- 2014 school year have not yet been determined. Stay tuned for updates by visiting hawaii.edu/finaid/scholarships/index.php.

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