Officials, Educators Emphasize Importance of STEM Education and Research in Hawai‘i and Okinawa

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HONOLULU (March 27, 2018) – Hawai‘i Governor David Ige and University of Hawai‘i President David Lassner, along with Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology President Peter Gruss, were among the speakers at a special panel discussion yesterday at the East-West Center focusing on the critical importance of cutting-edge science and technology research in both island communities.

Gruss, who was the keynote speaker at the “Talk Story” conference organized by the World Uchinanchu (Okinawan) Business Network, said that with the growth of knowledge and information complexity in the world accelerating at an exponential rate, scientific research and education are vital for communities to ensure future economic opportunity. Science, technology engineering and math (STEM) knowledge is also the key, he said, to addressing what he called  global “mega-challenges,” including food, water and energy supplies; climate change; urbanization; and health care.

“Why do we need the sciences?” he asked. “To paraphrase Sir Francis Bacon, science should make like better – and scientists have delivered. Compared to generations before us, we now live measurably healthier, happier and wealthier lives, thanks to basic scientific research.”

Gov. Ige, a former engineer, said that “the challenge in our economy going forward is really about creating high-quality jobs that allow our young people to find challenging, successful careers here at home. And I truly believe STEM education is fundamental to achieving that.”

UH President Lassner cited San Diego as an example of a city with similarities to Honolulu that has transformed its economy from being tourism-dependent to being an innovation hub, and that the key to the change has been “collaboration between the government, the private sector and a great research university.” Lassner said that at most of its campuses UH has been exceeding its goal of increasing STEM degrees by 5 percent. It is also the first university in the country to offer a teaching degree in ethno-mathematics, which allows teachers to inspire students by focusing on how math skills are applied in real-world ways in their communities.

“We used to talk about luring great companies here,” Lassner said. “Now we talk more about growing them here.”

Other panelists included prominent local biologist Kenneth Kaneshiro and Waialua High School robotics teacher Glenn Lee, whose student teams have won numerous robotics competition titles.

The Uchinanchu Talk Story Conference series strives to broaden understanding of issues of common interest to Okinawans and all peoples of the world. This panel was presented by the World Uchinanchu Business Network in partnership with the Okinawan Institute of Science and Technology and the East-West Center.

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