UH-West Oahu Wins Funds For Science Workforce Training


The push for a 21st-century workforce continues, and University of Hawaii-West Oahu is determined to be at the front of the pack.

UHWO has received a $245,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research to create a STEM Center of Excellence on its Kapolei campus.

STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education has been an area of national focus in recent years, in response to the growing need for a workforce qualified to take on high-tech jobs. UHWO thus believes that focusing on STEM is a perfect fit for its campus.

“As a comprehensive baccalaureate degree-granting institution, UH-West Oahu needs to provide STEM-related programming so students who choose to attend our school have sufficient courses and academic programs to prepare them for relevant jobs in today’s changing world,” said Sherry Proper, director of strategic initiatives and principal investigator for UHWO.

UHWO envisions the project as a long-term, ongoing initiative and will begin by using the grant money to renovate its existing physical science laboratory into a more “interactive” hub for STEM education. Renovations include the addition of a STEM-Center Portal display at the entrance to the lab, which will display real-time information about seismic activity, weather, building energy usage and atmospheric pressure.

The university also is looking at building a “Solar System Stroll,” a two-mile walking route around a model of the solar system, as well as an EZH20 Water Filling Station that helps eliminate plastic bottle waste.

But more significantly, the center will help UHWO expand its degree options.

Proper noted that several new and existing programs will be directly influenced by the presence of the STEM facility.

“We have a very popular Information Security Assurance academic program that we hope to expand,” she explained. “We also plan to develop innovative interdisciplinary programs, such as Facilities Management, that will build on business, math, science and technology coursework. This new program will prepare our graduates to manage complex building operations in energy-efficient ways.”

Proper added that, with time, the campus eventually will be able to offer program options that do not exist at any other school in the UH system. To achieve these goals, she hopes UHWO can partner with community members to invest in the center.

The university expects to have the initial phases of the STEM Center up and running by fall 2014.

Original plans called for the STEM Center to reside in its own building, but Proper noted that there isn’t funding for that just yet.

“We know that students have a growing interest in this area, so hopefully the momentum for STEM learning in Hawaii will continue, and a physical building to serve our community and the state of Hawaii will one day be a reality at UH-West Oahu,” she said.