JABSOM professor enjoys mentoring high school scientists

When public school teachers and University of Hawai`i faculty join forces to mentor high school students, great things can happen.

The most recent example is the achievement of Lorna-Leigh Kaneshiro, a Castle High School student who won the O`ahu Windward Regional Science fair earlier this year. The win gained her an immediate berth in the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Arizona in May. (The international fair is the world’s largest pre-college science competition.)

Lorna’s research interest was on “the effects of aging on the drug metabolizing NQO1 enzyme”.  Her Senior Project teacher at Castle, Karen Kimura, and Dr. Abby Collier, Associate Professor of Pharmacology at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), were brought together by Castle graduate and State Senator Jill Tokuda, who herself mentors students at the high school in Kane`ohe.  The partnership between Kimura and Collier helped Lorna hone her skills by offering her access one afternoon each week to the inside of a university research laboratory.

Dr. Luc Rougee, at the time Dr. Collier’s Post Doctoral Fellow, spent hours “bench-side” in the lab, helping to strengthen Lorna’s understanding of scientific principals. Dr. Collier helped Lorna guide her project design, and even print her research poster.  Lorna practiced presenting her project and answering questions from Collier’s entire lab group.

Castle teacher Kimura said the regional win and the trip to the Science and Engineering Fair left Lorna, who graduated from Castle this year, “very inspired by the chance to interact with other students from all over the world as well as with the scientists who judged the fair.”

JABSOM’s Dr. Collier has been mentoring science fair students like Lorna since 2006. Her first intern was a Waipahu High School student, Ron Tamayo, who is now attending pharmacy school at Creighton University. “In 2007, he won the Leeward Science Fair and also went to the Nationals in Arizona,” said Dr. Collier. She and Waipahu’s Head of Science, Mr. Michael Sana, couldn’t be prouder of Ron.

“I strongly believe that we need to reach out to high school students and give them experiences in Science, Technology, Math and Engineering (so-called “STEM” disciplines) so that they are engaged, interested and understand what future career options they have,” said Dr. Collier. “I also believe that we professional scientists and professors should support our high school teachers in their quest to educate the children of Hawai`i.”

Teacher Kimura, who officially retired from teaching in June, plans to keep on helping to inspire students like Lorna. “I definitely have not cut ties with Castle, though,” Kimura said. “I intend to work in some capacity with kids and will stay in touch with the program and the teacher who will be taking over”.


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