About Face summer STEM peels away layers of high-tech

KAPA‘A —  Thirty students, ages 12 through 18, celebrated graduation from the Hawai‘i Army National Guard Science, Technology, Engineering and Math summer program Tuesday at the Kapa‘a Armory.

Spearheaded by program director Lahea Salazar, students from Kapa‘a Middle School, Kapa‘a High School and two from Kanuikapono charter school spent eight weeks raising their awareness of high-technology fields.

Hosted by the Paxen Group, the students spent time on hands-on activities, field trips and guest speakers to raise their awareness of the many possibilities for their future path, said Peggy Granda, an instructor with the About Face program who returned to help Salazar.

“This was quite an adventure for everyone,” Salazar said. “The students committed to the program, and we are so lucky the community took care of us.”

During the program, Granda said the students spent time in computer science, life sciences and physical science.

“There was a lot of math,”   Granda said. “And there were the field trips to the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative power plant in Wailua, a solar farm, the Pacific Missile Range Facility, the Kilauea Lighthouse, Limahuli Gardens and the Kaua‘i Humane Society. ”

Salazar said they were also treated to presentations from a marine biologist and a mechanical engineer.

“During one of the field trips to Koke‘e, we had three students who were born here who had never been there,” the program director said. “I’m glad we could be the ones who introduced them to this area.”

Other skills to tie in the learning included creating scale models of the careers in technology they would be interested in pursuing.

“The students really had their eyes opened to the realm of high technology,” Granda said. “There was one student, during a model-building session where students created models of the kind of work they wanted to do, who said she wanted to be a pediatrician, not work in a green field. But in her rendering, the office was powered by solar. ”

Salazar was gratified by the bonding and enthusiasm demonstrated by the students.

“When school started, they came and finished the course after school,” she said. “This last week, they weren’t even paid for coming, but they’re here. ”

Under the About Face program presented by the Paxen group, students who attend classes are offered a stipend.

During the eight-week program, Salazar said she used a maze theme to guide the students through the roads of life.

“Our last field trip was Thursday, and how appropriate that it was at Kaua‘i Community College, where some of our students came away with the hope of one day attending classes,” Salazar said. “Our last exercise was a masking exercise where the students created life face masks in the hopes of peeling away the layers which mask their true dreams and desires.”

This program is about demystifying high technology so it is not so scary to young students, she said.

Salazar said at its peak, the About Face program offered as many as six programs to students.

But in March, funding to these programs was eliminated, cutting the programs and staff to where Salazar was the only person remaining.

“We were fortunate the Army National Guard offered this program,” Salazar said. “We brought back Peggy to help and there was a huge amount of activity. ”

As the 30 graduates return to their respective school classrooms, Salazar said they have already secured a grant which allows them to start a Workwise Investment Act program for students who are out of school as well as for students who are in school.

“We’ve already started talking with Jan Miyamoto of the county’s Workwise program,”  Salazar said. “Otherwise, we are just hanging in there. ”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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