Big Island students interested in science, technology, engineering and math will have a chance to apply for new scholarship and grant funds next year, pending the construction of what is poised to be one of the world’s largest telescopes atop Mauna Kea.
Representatives from the California-based Thirty Meter Telescope project started The Hawaii Island New Knowledge (THINK) fund several years ago in an attempt to “reach out” to the Big Island community. The fund will provide an annual amount of $1 million for STEM-related education on the Hawaii Island.
However, construction of TMT is in the center of a legal battle, as a group of six petitioners, Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, seek to overturn the state’s decision to grant a Conservation District Permit for the $1.3 billion initiative.
Despite legal challenges, Sandra Dawson, Hawaii community affairs manager for TMT, previously said plans are in the works to move ahead with construction since there’s no injunction. Currently, the TMT Board of Directors is working out a sub-lease agreement with the University of Hawaii at Hilo and officials from both sides said construction is slated to begin next year.
Dawson said three-fourths of the $1 million THINK fund will go toward the Hawaii Committee Foundation, a philanthropic entity that provides scholarships and grants to students throughout the state. The remaining one-fourth will go toward the Honolulu-based Ke Ali‘i Pauahi Foundation, an organization that supports Kamehameha Schools.
Dawson said any THINK funds will go directly toward Big Island students and that the decision on who gets what funds each year will be made by a local group. The current members of the THINK organizing group are Roberta Chu, Greg Chun, Jacqui Hoover, James Takamine, and Ross Wilson, with Lydia Clements representing HCF and Keawe Liu representing the Ke Ali’i Pauahi Foundation.
Liu, executive director of Ke Ali‘i Pauahi Foundation, anticipates the money will have a “substantial impact on the Big Island.”
“We’re excited to do good in the community,” he said. “This is going to make a significant impact on the Hawaii Island and Hawaiian community. Ours will be through scholarships and grants.”
According to a 2010 article published on TMT’s web site, $1 million will be provided annually over the lifetime of the TMT sublease on Mauna Kea.
“TMT is designed for a lifetime of 50 years, and the $1 million per year will continue as long as TMT is on Mauna Kea,” she said.
The TMT project formed in 2003 and is supported by observatories and universities from Canada, Japan, China, India and the United States. The telescope is projected to begin operations in 2022, and was anticipated to be the world’s largest telescope made up of a primary mirror that would be approximately 30 meters long with 492 individual segments. Currently, the world’s largest telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope, is set to be built in Chile.
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