A Tradition of Excellence: KCC Prevails Again at National STEM Conference

KCC STEM student Kim Kahaleua was recognized for her Undergraduate Student Presentation in Biology at the SACNAS National Conference which was held October 29-31 in Maryland. This is the third year in a row that a Kapi`olani STEM student has brought home a top honor from this event. Last year Melanie Keli`ipuleole was awarded 1st place for Genetics. The year before, Kaile Costa won for her presentation in the Zoology & Animal SSSL_4754_K-Kalaleua-II(1)cience division.

SACNAS stands for the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. It is the largest multicultural STEM organization in America.  Each year, SACNAS hosts the Diversity in STEM Conference which serves to, “motivate, inspire and engage participants to achieve their highest goals in pursuing education and careers in STEM fields.”

Kim’s research project, Bacterial Effects of Nīoi (Capsicum frutescens) attempts to bridge what the ancient Hawaiians knew about medicine with modern science. “Nowadays, you go to Longs and they tell you buy an ointment for your cuts, but our ancestors knew just as much. They’d use this plant with other ingredients and would apply it to wounds. It was just as effective.”

A big part of what makes the Kapi`olani STEM Program so successful is its emphasis on undergraduate research. Students are encouraged to take on new and challenging projects. Oftentimes, this leads them beyond their home campus and into more advanced environments to conduct their experiments. For Kim, this meant traveling to the Kaka`ako to work on cell cultures.

“Everything was new to me. Just going to John A. Burns School of Medicine to do my research was pretty awesome. I’ve never worked with cells before; the things I did are usually reserved for grad students or people at a higher level. This was such a great experience!”

Kim would like to acknowledge Dr. Kathleen Ogata (Chemistry mentor), Mrs. Keolani Noa (cultural mentor), Mrs. Nelda Quensell (Botany Faculty Mentor), Project Olona JABSOM partnership and Kamehameha School Extension Education who all contributed to the success of this project.

Dr. Kathleen Ogata says, “She’s the one who did the work. She is a Native Hawaiian scientist who is validating the knowledge of La`au Lapa`au (Hawaiian medicine) with scientific research. This is a huge accomplishment in bridging different fields.”