Sunday | April 19, 2015
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It’s a jewel of a program

Ten-year-old Kilinoe Muraki pointed her rubber band-powered rocket toward the overcast sky Thursday.

At the end of a 10-second countdown, she launched it. About a dozen necks craned to see how high the foam rocket soared above the grassy area at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay.

“Twenty-five,” yelled Judy Ann Williams of the Civil Air Patrol Kona Composite Squadron’s Aerospace Education Cadet Program. Standing 60 feet away from Muraki and the other fifth-graders, Williams used an altimeter gun to measure the rocket’s angle.

With the angle, Muraki raced back to the tent to consult a trigonometry table to find the tangent of that angle. She multiplied that value by the distance and learned her rocket soared nearly 28 feet.

The discovery showed how careful observation is not always enough to determine whose rocket went the highest. While this wasn’t exactly rocket science, the exercise of rocket building and launching, as well as the completion of a simple calculation, did promote interest in math, science and technology. It also spurred discussions about aerospace, particularly engineering. Some participants began to think like scientists, evaluating how they could better their rockets’ performances and testing theories.

This was one of 21 hands-on workshops and 10 exhibits offered during Girls Exploring Math and Science. A project of the American Association of University Women Kona for at least a decade, GEMS is an annual one-day program designed to stimulate interest and bolster girls’ confidence in traditionally male-dominated math and science fields before they enter middle school, when studies show many begin to fall behind in such subjects or dumb themselves down to fit in, said Jamie Pardau, AAUW Kona president.

Muraki said GEMS was something she had looked forward to for years, adding that Hualalai Academy students who attend the program rave for days about what they’ve learned. They often say the worst part about the program is that it’s only one day and just for fifth-graders, she added.

Muraki wanted to participate in GEMS because she loves the complexity and challenge of math and science. She said continuing to do well in both subjects is important, especially since she plans to become a pediatrician. What Muraki most enjoys about GEMS is “it shows girls can do things just as good as the boys.” In fact, she thinks “boys underestimate girls.”

At the “Marine Science & Problem Solving Along Our Shores” workshop, GEMS participants learned about marine debris, its causes and harmful effects. Some girls were surprised to learn plastics do not biodegrade quickly and some don’t break down at all, resulting in microplastic or nurdles.

They examined debris collected last weekend from Kamilo Point, recording and identifying which items had hitchhikers, foreign marketing, could be recycled or were Sharkastics — pieces with bite marks. Items deemed recyclable would later be sent to Method, a California-based cleaning products company, and used to create bottles, made with a blend of recovered ocean plastic and post-consumer recycled plastic.

The workshop leaders — Megan Lamson, Stacey Breining and Catherine Spina of Hawaii Wildlife Fund, and Kristine Kubat of Recycle Hawaii — encouraged the participants to use “their amazing minds” and “natural-born curiosity” to come up with positive solutions. The students were also told be “living examples” of the changes they hope to make and be voices for the wildlife they want to protect.

Each student then made a personal commitment to the ecosystem or to reducing marine debris. Jenna Oyama of Konawaena Elementary vowed to pick up every discard she sees and always use a reusable bag while Jessica King of Holualoa Elementary promised “to not buy much stuff with plastic” and bring a fork, spoon, knife or spork to help reduce waste associated with single-use items.

This year, there was record attendance at GEMS, with a total of 332 West Hawaii fifth-graders participating. Students paid $20 to attend the program, which costs roughly $11,000 to put on. Scholarships were given to those who could not pay the fee and no one was turned away, Pardau said.

With the number of participants growing every year, donations are key. Numerous individuals, business and community organizations have continued to contribute money, materials, equipment and volunteers. Without their ongoing support, the program would not be a success, Pardau said.

“GEMS is more than just exploring math and science. It’s a day to celebrate being a smart girl and for the community to show their support for young women with dreams,” she added.

AAUW Kona’s mission is to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education and research. Its members hope GEMS participants stay involved in math and science through middle school, high school and college. They also hope these budding scholars never forgo passions because of peer pressure, a lack of female role models or negative stereotypes.