Women in the Workforce: You are Your Own Leader

Recent Statistical History of Women at Work

Women in the workforce have come a long way since the 1960s. Statistics presented by the U.S. Department of Labor (2012) show women’s labor participation is up by 53 percent since 1963. There have been several initiatives put into place by lawmakers in order to promote equality for working women. These include the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (U.S. Dept. Labor, 2012).

Despite the fact that there are more women in the American workforce than ever before, and despite all of the legislation passed to help women succeed regardless of discrimination, females still face difficulties and adversity.

Present Day Statistics

Currently, women in the U.S. take home less income than men. The median weekly earnings of women workers, ages 16 and over in 2013, was $706 dollars. The median weekly earnings of men, ages 16 and over was $860 dollars. In other words, on average, women make $0.82 for every $1.00 that men make. This might not seem like a huge difference, but over the course of a year it means that women take home roughly $36,712 while men take home $44,720 for doing the same job (U.S. Dept. Labor, 2015).

Another recent statistic shows that the majority of students who are attending college today are women. Forbes (2012) reports that universities are made up of 43.6 percent men and 56.4 percent women. Female domination of higher education prevails across all schools whether it be public, private, or not-for-profit institutions. This is interesting if you compare the ratio of males to females who are of eligible college age. There are more males than females in the age range of 18 to 24 who are of college age, at 51 percent vs. 49 percent (Borzelleca, 2012).

This could possibly be explained by the fact that there is more of a demand in leading occupations that do not require a college degree in fields that women typically don’t enter. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor (2015) reported that the in-demand, higher-paying occupations for 2010 to 2020 include; accountants and auditors, brick masons, cargo and freight agents, carpenters, cement masons, cost estimators, and database administrators. The percentage of women actually employed in these fields? Aside from the field of accounting a very low percentage of women actually work in these occupations, approximately zero to 39 percent, which are dominated by men and require only a high school diploma (U.S. Dept. Labor, 2015).

Women in Male Dominated Roles

So, what if women decided to become cement masons or decided to work in a male dominated field? Take the case of Lilly Ledbetter, as reported by the National Women’s Law Center (2015). She was one of the few female supervisors at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Gadsden, Alabama.   She worked there for close to two decades. After overcoming sexual harassment and being told by her male counterparts that they didn’t think a woman should be working there, she found out through an anonymous tip that the salaries of the three male managers with whom she worked were grossly higher than her own. Ledbetter then filed a complaint and her case went to trial. She was awarded $3.3 million and new legislation was signed into action by President Obama on January 29, 2009, restoring the Protection Against Pay Discrimination Act, which some would claim “had been stripped away” by the Supreme Court in its earlier ruling in the Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. case (National Women’s Law Center, 2015).

Ledbetter did not give up and she took an active role in making things better for women: financially, legislatively, mentally, and socially. This is also not ruling out the fact that women have a lot of adversity to face and overcome.

Progress Toward Equal Pay

What is being done about inequality in the workforce? Aside from legislative acts and amendments, the White House under President Obama reported that raising the minimum wage will greatly impact women.

Obama said in a speech at Central Connecticut State University on March 5, 2014 that, “Most people who would get a raise if we raise the minimum wage are not teenagers on their first job- their average age is 35. Women hold a majority of lower-wage jobs. These Americans are working full-time, often supporting families, and if the minimum wage had kept pace with our economy’s productivity, they’d already be earning well over 10$ an hour today. Instead, it’s stuck at $7.25. Every time Congress refuses to raise it, it loses value because the cost of living goes higher, minimum wage stays the same (The White House, 2015, p.1).”

Congress is 18 percent women and 82 percent men. One argument regarding women’s lower income on a national level, is the idea that if you were to remove all of the male CEO’s earnings, maybe women would actually be making wages comparable to men’s wages. However, this only opens up another question; why are there so many more male CEO’s than female CEO’s and are their wages the same or are they being paid more? Catalyst (2015) did a statistical overview of women in Fortune 500 Companies and found that only 14.6 percent of executive officer positions were held by women and Fortune 500 board seats actually occupied by women were 16.9 percent (Knowledge Center, 2015).

Leadership and Mentorship

Women are reportedly often-times viewed as ‘risky’ investments to employ in typically male dominated roles. For example, the Harvard Business Review (2015) states that women are twice as likely to be hired from outside of a company as opposed to being promoted internally. They went on to claim that, “This finding might suggest that women are very likely not emerging as winners in their firms’ own CEO tournaments (Ibarra, Carter, & Silva, 2015, p. 6).” Aside from that, they cited a study conducted in 2008 of more than 4,000 full-time employed men and women. These were individuals who were considered high potentials and had graduated from top MBA programs worldwide. The study revealed that the women were paid $4,600 less in their first post-MBA jobs. They also occupied lower-level management positions and reportedly had less career satisfaction as compared to their male cohorts (Ibarra et al., 2015).

Another factor to consider is mentorship. According to one study, more women actually have more mentors than men do. However, the same 2008 study suggested that women’s mentors have “less organizational clout (Ibarra et al., 2015, p. 4),” and a follow up survey conducted in 2010 shows that men received 15 percent more promotions than women did. Something that could be considered quite interesting, is that 67 percent of the people involved in the study found their mentors on their own (Ibarra et al., 2015). So, does this mean that women aren’t picking mentors that can help them advance? Are women actively sabotaging themselves? Or are there vast differences in how women are mentored vs. men?

There is of course the dilemma of the double standard. Men who are mentoring or working with other men can go out for a drink together and no one thinks twice about it, whereas if a male co-worker, mentor, or boss goes out for a drink with a female co-worker, things are often viewed differently by society and sometimes by the individuals involved. Aside from that, real or perceived interests may be the responsible underlying motivation rather than professionalism.

Conclusion

These are all things that women should consider keeping in mind. Overall, there is a lot of work to be done as far as women’s equality in the workplace is concerned, but as individuals we are also responsible for our own reality. There are a few exceptions to this rule as our world is dominated by freewill, however, if we remain diligent our goals and ambitions can be reached. This is being clearly demonstrated as the steady increase in percentages of women CEO’s and females in the job market, in general, rises.

Women should not be discouraged, angry, or become indignant but rather, be as pro-active in their own lives as possible. In the end, you are your own leader. Rather than putting yourself down, raise yourself up, and even more importantly, raise up those around you, and you will succeed.

Bibliography

Anderson, Melissa J. “Why Do We Need Male Mentors and Sponsors? The Glass Hammer.” The Glass Hammer RSS. N.p., 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 07 Feb. 2015.

Borzelleca, Daniel. “The Male-Female Ratio in College.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 16 Feb. 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.

Francis, David R. “Why Do Women Outnumber Men in College?” Why Do Women Outnumber Men in College? N.p., 27 Feb. 2015. Web. 07 Feb. 2015.

Ibarra, Herminia, Nancy M. Carter, and Christine Silva. “Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Women.” Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Review, 01 Sept. 2010. Web. 07 Feb. 2015.

“Knowledge Center.” Knowledge Center. Ed. Catalyst. N.p., 03 Mar. 2014. Web. 05 Feb. 2015.

“LEDBETTER v. GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO., INC.” SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES (2007): n. pag. http://www.supremecourt.gov. The Supreme Court, May 2007. Web.

“Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.” National Women’s Law Center. N.p., 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 Feb. 2015.

“Median Weekly Earnings by Sex, Marital Status, and Presence and Age of Own Children under 18 in 2012 : The Economics Daily : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 03 Dec. 2013. Web. 07 Feb. 2015.

Office of the Press Secretary. “NEW WHITE HOUSE REPORT: The Impact of Raising the Minimum Wage on Women and the Importance of Ensuring a Robust Tipped Minimum Wage.” The White House. The White House, 26 Mar. 2014. Web. 07 Feb. 2015.

U.S. Dept. of Labor. “In-Demand, Higher-Paying Occupations (2010-2020).” Women’s Bureau (WB) In-Demand Occupations (2010-2020). N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Feb. 2015.

U.S. Dept. of Labor. “Latest Annual Data.” Women’s Bureau (WB). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013. Web. 08 Feb. 2015.

U.S. Dept. of Labor. “Leading Occupations.” Women’s Bureau (WB). N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Feb. 2015.

U.S. Dept. of Labor. “Women, Work & The Work Ahead.” 50 Years Later N.P., n.d. Web. 2012.

International Monetary Fund: Comparing the Perspectives of Tom Friedman and Naomi Klein

Introduction: The International Monetary Fund and Its Policies

The International Monetary Fund, or the IMF, governs the use and exchange of money around the world and between countries. Each country has its own currency and the international monetary system governs the rules for valuing and exchanging these currencies. There are policies that the IMF advocates to help fund struggling developing nations that include promoting international monetary cooperation through a permanent institution, the facilitation of expansion and balanced growth of international trade, exchange stability, assistance in the establishment of a multilateral system of payments through the elimination of foreign exchange restrictions which hamper the growth of world trade, making the general resources of the Fund temporarily available to countries under adequate safeguards, and to shorten the duration and lessen the degree of disequilibrium in the international balances of payments of members (Carpenter & Dunung, 2017).

In short, they advocate for deregulation, privatization, and cutbacks. These things could manifest as lower tariffs and barriers to international capital flows, privatization of state owned firms, balanced budgets, the elimination of social subsidiaries, tax cuts for the rich, and foreign direct investment and exports (Calton, 2016). These policies also propose no minimum wage, free trade by corporations, privatization of post offices, education, and retirement pensions, among others. Many of these policies are not yet implemented in developing countries and it can be a massive adjustment for them from their current economical and governmental model.

 Naomi Klein

In her book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein argues that these policies are deliberately implemented after a time of massive change, or a shocking event. Sometimes this “shock” is orchestrated by the governments, or agencies and global corporations, to manipulate developing countries and their governments into acting the way they want, for the benefit of the foreign agencies and corporations (Klein, 2007). It has been viewed as electroshock therapy on a country, which is implemented in order to create a form of social amnesia that inevitably enables the introduction of a new way of thinking. The Shock Doctrine follows the evolution of these ideas through history, and illustrates how well-known events of the recent past have been deliberately orchestrated in order to exert a high level of shock on a country, and bring about the introduction of a new economic government. According to Klein, the IMF has even supported dictatorships and military coups. Examples of this include Indonesia’s coup in 1965 and Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973.

 Tom Friedman

Tom Friedman, in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, praised these same policies as a “golden straight jacket” because they help to bring about positive change and economic growth for countries, if they decide to “wear the jacket.” The idea is that the jacket is tight, therefore there is not room for corruption or rule breaking, and there are standards and rules that a country must adhere to in order to wear the jacket, so it can be uncomfortable (Calton, 2016). However, it is golden because, if a country chooses to wear the jacket correctly and abide by the standards demanded by investors, they will be rewarded in gold and economic riches to be showered on them by global corporations and the electronic herd.

Friedman argues that the policies advocated by the IMF increase transparency and standards, decrease corruption, promote freedom of the press, introduce stock and bond markets, and push forward democratization. These things will all be brought about out of necessity to demonstrate a country’s soundness and stability to the electric herd. The electric herd is essentially a global collection of long-term and short-term investors, bringing capital to a country through direct investment and the stocks and bonds market (Friedman, 2000). They are given the fitting titles of “long-horn” and “short-horn cattle.” Because of a country’s self-interest to do well economically, the herd can help with that by providing investment funds. But the herd will only invest in a country that is stable, transparent, and demonstrates a move toward democratization and higher standards. If the herd is spooked by dishonesty and an exaggeration of the facts, as it happened in 1997 in South Korea when the country claimed to have currency reserves of $30 billion but was later revealed to only have $10 billion, then the herd will take off and take their investment funds with them (Friedman, 2000).

Since countries wish to encourage investment, then they will naturally seek to maintain transparency. The same goes for living and working standards. A great example of this are factory workers in Sri Lanka producing garments for Victoria’s Secret being given clean work spaces, better wages, air-conditioning, and state of the art computerized systems to track their work with pregnant women being required to produce less. Because consumers in America are concerned with the treatment of the people producing their garments, the factory has had to raise the bar on its standards. Friedman purports that other benefits follow in a similar fashion, thus increasing the overall wealth and economic sanctity of the countries wearing the “golden straight jacket.”

 Conclusion

The IMF can have a negative world impact when analyzing the implications of its policies from the standpoint taken by Klein. Shadow maneuvers like coups and support of dictatorships, as was seen in Chile, are certainly detrimental to a nation’s people, identity, and development. As with Chile, many people stand to lose their lives when IMF-fueled governmental overthrows threaten to overturn a country. It is possible to see how more developed nations and the IMF are taking advantage of developing countries, considering they do not have the resources, education, or where-with-all to outmaneuver a superpower like a global monetary fund or the United States. However, the IMF and the development of up-and-coming nations can be positive for the citizens of those nations and their economies.

If we look at Friedman’s discourse, one can see how countries would want to make use of the IMF and the possibilities it holds. Democracy and functioning capitalism must follow a process of development, and for-whatever-reason there has been blood shed over their implementation and introduction in new areas. It is reasonable to agree with Friedman that there are self-serving reasons for a country to find it convenient to slap on a golden straight jacket and feel compelled to follow and seek attainment of certain standards and transparencies, however it is also reasonable that a moderate amount of government regulation needs to be in place, in all countries and on an international level. This needs to occur so that things like military regimes are not encouraged simply because it will benefit a larger more economically lucrative end for more developed nations and their corporations.

As with the Tragedy of the Commons in England, people when given freedom to use an economically important asset without regulation will take advantage of said asset until no one is able to use it any longer, because it has been depleted. This can be seen as demonstrated through Klein’s arguments and examples of various overthrows and coups by the US and its agencies over the course of contemporary history, where outside influences, like other governments or corporations, misuse a resource or country since there are no known regulations. However, the IMF has its advantages and an ability to encourage better standards of work and life in developing nations. Therefore, to reap the benefits of aiding developing nations to become more economically sound, there should be a middle ground. International laws governing the IMF and limiting its ability to meddle in a country’s internal affairs should be enacted and other modes of encouraging countries to adopt a more capitalistic and democratic form of government should be brought about, even if they take longer to enact. A country and its identity and people are important and should be treated as thus, regardless of systemic and economic differences, and great care needs to be taken when bringing such countries into the global marketplace.

Rather than forcing democracy and capitalism on a nation through shock treatment, first make requirements of the country to be carried out in good faith by said country, before being allowed to join the global marketplace, and layout a plan of action that the government can seek to enact in its own way and with help from the IMF.

References

Calton, J. 2016. Class Lectures: Management 333 Course. UH Hilo, Hawaii.

Carpenter M. & Dunung S. 2017. International Business: Opportunities and Challenges in a Flattening World. Flat World Inc.

Freidman, T. 2000. The Olive and the Lexus. Anchor Books.

Klein, N. 2007. The Shock Doctrine. Knopf Canada.

Local Entrepreneur Enlists the Help of Nine UH Hilo Interns to Launch the ‘Firm of the Future’

claire-group
The Fall 2017 Akau Accounting interns with UH Hilo alumna and business entrepreneur Claire-Ann Niibu-Akau, pictured front-and-center. Photos by Darryl Holland.

UH Hilo alumna launches a new accounting firm and offers internship opportunities to students

UH Hilo alumna Claire-Ann Niibu-Akau just launched her accounting firm of the future. Niibu-Akau graduated in December 2015 with a degree in accounting. She opened her business Akau Accounting this Fall, and is looking to innovate her field. She says, “I’ve been doing bookkeeping and accounting for about 20 years, but I began this firm in November. I wanted to continue to support small businesses in Hawaii.” Niibu-Akau has hired nine UH Hilo student-interns to help her revolutionize her practice through technological advancements. The Akau Accounting organizational structure is designed to be a virtual on-line accounting practice. This allows for remote anywhere-in-the-world bookkeeping for clients and also provides the company’s student-interns with flexibility. Niibu-Akau, her employees and interns are able to work at the hours that best fit their schedules and meet client demand from virtually anywhere in the world.

Internship program to provide a diversified and innovative environment

Niibu-Akau hired nine student-interns after participating in the UH Hilo College of Business and Economics Internship and Job Fair. One of her main goals is to help people in the community, and she feels that having interns is a large part of that. As a recent graduate, Niibu-Akau knows what the importance of a good internship experience can provide for students.

“I know that students are very capable and I believe that if given the opportunity, our UH Hilo students have great potential for self-development and personal growth.”

Of the nine students that have been hired, seven are focusing on accounting and two are focusing on marketing. Niibu-Akau says, “The cool thing is that the interns are so diverse in skill and background.”

The Akau Accounting interns hail from different areas of the globe including China, the Marshall Islands, Hawaii and the Mainland United States. They come from culturally diverse settings and bring expertise from various walks of life. Niibu-Akau expects that the interns will also help a lot of small businesses in the community. “Interns bring a lot of great ideas, a high level of energy and will grow in their knowledge.”

Meet the interns

Jiaqi Wu – Marketing Intern

jiaqiwuA junior business administration major from China, Wu says, “Internships can give me a good opportunity to put my marketing knowledge into practice.” Wu is hoping to build her marketing skills and get more professional experience by working in a real business practice setting.

Yuye Zhao – Marketing Intern

yuyezhaoIn her junior year, Zhao hails from China. She is looking to gain first-hand experience in the business world, “I suggest students take more internships to gain more real world experience. If they only study the classes, they may be far away from the real business world.”

Will Lewis – Accounting Intern

willlewisAn accounting major in his junior year, Lewis graduated from High School in California. He began the internship after being referred by friends in the CoBE department, “After speaking with Claire, it became evident that she had a very forward thinking vision for her business. The integration of technology into the accounting profession, as well as the business being built upon technological developments and tools really excited me.”

Wyatt Nelson – Accounting Intern

wyattnelsonNelson is an accounting major in his senior year at UH Hilo. “Being able to look at the inner workings of a business just by analyzing its finances is a prospect that I have always found fascinating, that coupled with the opportunity to provide financial advisory to others made accounting a field that I believe suits my talents and who I am very well.” Nelson also holds roles in various clubs on campus including the Accounting Club and the Delta Sigma Pi Professional Fraternity, and organizes tutoring sessions for accounting students.

Calvin Myazoe – Accounting Intern

calvinmyazoeAn intern majoring in accounting who will be graduating in May 2017. Myazoe attended high school in California and used to work for a bank, “I was advised by my supervisor at the time to attend college and study accounting… the more I got into it and understand concepts, slowly though progressively, I started liking it.” Myazoe is involved in the Micronesian United – Big Island Club and also the Pacific Islander Student Center. His advice to students? “Manage their time wisely. Everything in college is done by yourself. You do nothing, there’s no progress. Whereas, if you do your best, you put yourself in a position to succeed.”

Manuel Fernandez – Accounting Intern

manuelfernandezA sophomore at UH Hilo who grew up in California and is majoring in accounting, Fernandez has a very streamlined interest in this internship. “I hope to learn how to navigate the Quick Books platform and implement year-end adjusting entries to reconcile the client’s accounts for year end financial statements.” Fernandez lost two of his fingers in a carpentry accident, “The tragedy of cutting off my fingers afforded me the opportunity to pursue what was just a thought; my accounting degree and CPA license.” Fernandez also holds a role as the vice president of professional activities in the Delta Sigma Pi Professional Fraternity.

Krizha Tumaneng – Accounting Intern

krzhaA senior pursuing a double concentration in business administration of management and marketing, she is also a double major, working to achieve a degree in accounting as well. Tumaneng hopes to learn financial, management and marketing skills particular to the accounting field through her internship experience. Tumaneng is a member of the American Marketing Association on campus.

Xiaoting Liu – Accounting Intern

xiaotingliuAn accounting and finance major, Liu attended school in China before coming to Hawaii. This is her final semester at UH Hilo and she has been participating in internships regularly, “Internships definitely help me to build my experience and utilize what I have learned in the classroom, and bring it into a real business world [setting].” Liu is interested in building on her teamwork skills and accounting knowledge. She is an auditor at the Ron Dolan CPA Firm and the vice president of finance for Delta Sigma Pi.

Rissa Domingo – Accounting Intern

rissadomingoDomingo is a senior majoring in accounting who grew up in the Marshall Islands. She thought that this internship would provide a great opportunity to improve her skills and learn about her strengths and weaknesses while enhancing her professional confidence. “I want to know what is expected of me, how I can contribute efficiently and improve effectively, personally and professionally.” Domingo advises students to always have a positive attitude and educate themselves in all aspects of their lives. Her advice to students is, “Continue to pursue higher education and seize any academic and professional opportunities that come your way.”

My Summer Internship at the 2016 Democratic National Convention

Seated front-and-center with the 2016 DNCC interns.

June 29, 2016
Philadelphia, PA

I was raised on a sailboat in the Pacific Ocean and later grew up running around barefoot in the Ka‘ū desert on Hawai‘i Island. Living in a house perched on an active volcano and climbing through tropical jungles in search of hundred-foot waterfalls is just something that came with the territory.

Hawai‘i Island is a vast melting pot of diversity, not just geographically but also culturally and ethnically. In fact, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, where I am currently a senior majoring in business administration and interning in the Office of the Chancellor, is one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the country.

Fitting then, that this island girl—a fourth generation kama‘āina (born in Hawai‘i) and great-granddaughter of plantation immigrants from Korea—would wind up interning over the summer at the Democratic National Convention Committee  in Philadelphia. The DNCC internship program is 60 percent women and 60 percent ethnic minority groups. Needless to say, I feel right at home, minus the waterfalls.

Why internships?

At UH Hilo, a lot of emphasis is placed on internships. Why internships? In a word, the future, and in the case of the Democratic National Convention Committee, it is a future not just for the interns who were lucky enough to snag one of the 50 coveted spots, but also for coming generations as the leaders and platforms of tomorrow are being shaped.

My experience here at the DNCC is an amazing opportunity for skill building in time management, interdepartmental networking, on-the-spot problem solving, and absolute action. The chance to work with seasoned experts, past White House staff, and rising leaders is the icing on the cake. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a team at the DNCC tasked with volunteer coordination, and with roughly 17,000 volunteers signed into our system, the pressure is on… and I’m loving every minute of it.

The author and Marian Martez, a volunteer that she helped find a position for at the DNC.
With Marian Martez, a volunteer I helped find a position for at the convention.

As each day flies by, I find myself relying on the different skill sets I have developed over the years through my travels and my education, and there are a few that stand out to me in my role with the DNCC.

First, the transition of moving from an island town to an East Coast city was made more fluid by my past travel experiences. After graduating with an associate’s degree from Hawai‘i Community College’s West Hawai‘i campus, I lived in Italy for seven years. From there I traveled across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. This has influenced my appreciation for cultural differences and shaped my ability to navigate diverse societies and locales with respect and confidence.

The second contributing factor to my work here has been my internship experience with the UH Hilo chancellor’s office, where I work in public information primarily writing for the website UH Hilo Stories. Developing stories, contacting sources, interviewing professionals, writing informative articles—all under tight deadlines—serve as a strong foundation for my work with the DNCC: quick and effective communication, relationship building, and being able to hit the ground running.

Further, the chancellor’s office internship brought me in contact with someone who has become an important mentor to me. My editor at UH Hilo Stories encouraged me to apply for the DNCC summer internship, helped me with my résumé, gives me professional advice along the way, and reminds me to stay positive when things are challenging.

Lara Hughes with the Hawaii Delegation during Hillary Clintons acceptance speech for the nomination.
Sitting with the Hawai‘i delegation during Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech for the nomination. Click to enlarge.

Also helping me in my work with the DNCC is a surprising skill I’ve discovered in myself: an ability to appreciate and learn from mistakes. We all make mistakes, but I’ve discovered it is what we do afterward that defines us and perhaps, more importantly, determines who we will become one day. Taking a difficult experience and turning it into something positive nurtures an ability to move forward and do better for ourselves, and helping those around us is exponentially multiplied.

It is the moving forward that answers the question, “Why internships?” Internships are the first steps in training young professionals who have the potential to build the world’s communities of tomorrow. Being here in Philadelphia this summer, gaining more experience than I ever thought possible in a short period of time, I feel more inspired and excited about moving forward into the future than ever before.

Advancing Humanity’s Knowledge About Merging Galaxies and Their Blackholes

Derek Hand and Andreea Petric in their office at the Institute for Astronomy, UH Hilo University Park of Science and Technology.

Derek Hand and Andreea Petric at the Institute for Astronomy, University Park of Science and Technology, UH Hilo campus. Click to enlarge.

A budding scientist double majoring in physics and astronomy at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo has helped make an astonishing discovery about merging galaxies.

After receiving a bachelor of science in astronomy last fall, UH Hilo senior Derek Hand is now finishing up his second baccalaureate degree, this one in physics. He is a NASA Space Grant Fellow who joined forces with astronomer Andreea Petric when she was a science fellow at Gemini Observatories. She now serves as resident astronomer with the Canada-France-Hawai‘i-Telescope.

Together, student and mentor have been working to analyze data that will advance humanity’s knowledge about merging galaxies and the growth of the central black holes they encompass.

While conducting analysis of their observations, Petric and Hand made a surprising discovery that, once verified, will be a new contribution to science.

They found that Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN), or as Petric describes, “super massive black holes that are eating,” can have a dramatic impact on the matter from which galaxies make their stars. This is surprising because the transfer of energy ranges from the very small physical scale to the very vast galaxy-wide scale.

Derek Hand working on his research project.

Derek Hand working on his research project. Courtesy photo.

The project is an independent research process. Hand came up with the research proposal and does the research while Petric provides guidance. Hand gives this scientific description of the work:

Our CO data comes from the Herschel satellite in the far Infrared (~200 -700) microns. We will be observing transitions of the 12 CO carbon monoxide (CO molecule). The CO molecule has rotational kinetic energy, proportional to its angular momentum. Quantum mechanics tell us tells us that the angular momentum and hence the rotational energy are quantized such that the rotational energy is proportional to angular quantum number J as J (J+1), with higher J at higher energy levels.

So the upper-level energies Eu for CO transitions are proportional to J(J+1). The corresponding minimum temperatures for J upper = 13 are on the order of a few hundred K and so high – J lines are weak in cold molecular gas but strong in regions of star-formation or when there is AGN heating the gas.

So for this project with Herschel we observed warm CO, transitions J=4-3 to 13-12, to compare see if and how the CO excitation conditions change in LIRGs as a function of merger stage and AGN contribution to the IR.

In addition I performed a long and tedious literature search to obtain all the CO 1-0 measurements, as this probes the coldest CO an the one that is most closely associated with star-formation. I found measurements for (168??) but there is a small hitch. These observations were performed with single dish observatories and results in these objects being observed differently while the SPIRE/FTS beam size varies between 20 and 40′′, and to correct for this, we must scale this data. To do so, we will employ Herschel Far Infrared observations to estimate the CO(1-0) that may be present in the Herschel aperture (that is, go from a 1-2 arcminute scale to about a 30 arcsecond scale).

Collaboration

The mentorship of Petric has been invaluable to Hand’s start as a serious scientist. Petric, a member of the physics and astronomy faculty at UH Hilo, received her doctor of philosophy from Columbia University and was a postdoctoral fellow at California Institute of Technology, where she worked on infrared and millimeter observations of interacting galaxies and galaxies hosting Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN).

In order to make their recent discovery about AGN, Petric and Hand collaborated with scientists from the University of Virginia, the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, the Institute for Astronomy at UH Mānoa, and groups in France and Japan. Working together, they used multiple data sets to study the properties of the molecular gas in Luminous Infrared Galaxies.

Petric and Hand are currently using different methods and data from other sources and telescopes to verify the discovery. Once that is done, they have a plan in-the-works to write and publish a paper on their findings.

Applied learning

All of this may not have been possible without the opportunities provided at UH Hilo where students can apply their knowledge gained in the classroom to real life experience.

Petric and Hand met through the Akamai Internship Program. The six-week program offers college and university students an opportunity to gain a summer work experience at an observatory, company or scientific or technical facility in Hawai‘i. Akamai offers training, skill acquisition and first-hand experience working alongside mentors, managers, and fellow interns. Promising college and university students who excel in their chosen industries are given a jump start into their careers.

After Petric and Hand were matched through the Akamai program, they found shared interests and formulated the research idea that would eventually lead them to new discoveries about the role of interacting galaxies on star formations and black hole growth.

This led Hand to pursue a highly competitive Space Grant from NASA. Funding was awarded and the rest may, quite possibly, go down in history.

Becoming an astronomer at UH Hilo

Derek standing in front of observatory dome

Derek Hand on the summit of Maunakea. Courtesy photo.

Hand, who hails from Bemidji, Minnesota, and graduated from Mount Ayr Community High School, Iowa, in 2012, says, “I came to Hawai‘i because the (UH Hilo) astronomy and physics department does have its own observatory.”

The observatory is currently closed for maintenance, but is scheduled to be up-and-running in about eight months. In the meantime, Hand felt he had enough class work and experience to apply for an internship.

“I wanted to work with real data, with real people, working on real research, that’s where I learn the best,” he says.

Hand feels that it helps to apply the tools acquired in the classroom and believes that the application emphasizes their importance.

He says that one of the most valuable lessons he has learned, thanks to his internship and subsequent NASA fellowship working with Petric, has been the independent research process. In the past people had told him what to do, but Hand is grateful for Petric’s approach.

“Andreea more-or-less says ‘this is what needs to happen, you should figure out how to do it,’” explains Hand.

Petric says the long time period of the grant played a large role in the work.

“We had a long time, that’s why I think the Space Grant is a wonderful opportunity,” she says. “A lot of UH students have classes and they also have jobs. On top of that they want to be involved in research, but it’s quite difficult, there isn’t enough time. That’s why the Space Grant is great, it provides extra funding and time.”

Petric also points out other benefits, such as skill development through specific literature searches, computing faculties and technical language acquirement.

The team will continue their research this semester, looking at other founts that will help them understand whether their discovery is in fact confirmable. They plan to write and publish a paper discussing their findings, should they be successful.

Hand will be graduating this May, completing his double major in astronomy and physics. He has applied to graduate school.

The Point

Manarola, Italy

A fence, flowers turned
toward a cloud covered sky.
The sun sets on the distant haze-
covered horizon as the air, sweet
and damp, sinks into my skin.
Vivacious green, shatters
the rocky coastline,
jutting forth from the wave
covered depths.
Blue sky opens overhead and
the scent of musk and earth
glides down the mountainside.

©2016 Lara Hughes

Hoping to Make a Difference in the Colombian Economy

Miguel Bravo Escobar, an ambitious agriculturalist and researcher, is planning for a career that will allow travel between his home country of Colombia and the U.S., while being involved in agricultural and laboratory development.

Escobar
UH Hilo agriculture student Miguel Bravo Escobar stands in a pineapple field in Costa Rica during an internship focusing on banana and pineapple production and exporting. Courtesy photos.
Miguel Bravo Escobar
Miguel Bravo Escobar

Miguel Bravo Escobar is an international exchange student at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo majoring in tropical horticulture at the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management. Originally from Medellin, Colombia, Escobar is a third-generation commercial farmer in a country that has been affected by civil war for the past 60 years.

When asked what the biggest challenge has been for him coming to the U.S., Escobar says, “I can’t say that living (here) has been a challenge at all, it’s the complete opposite, a reward. I don’t have to worry about situations that can threaten my life that are very common in the rural areas of Colombia, like armed factions of guerrillas and paramilitaries.”

However, if it weren’t for life threatening situations, Escobar might not be here. He decided to pursue his higher education after a near death experience.

Escobar explains, “There was an accident in a motorcycle while I was traveling through large cattle fields. I was two inches away from cutting my jugular vein with barbed wire.” After the accident, he drove back to his farm but had lost so much blood that when he arrived at his house, he passed out. He awoke to find that his family, being four hours away from the nearest hospital, had saved his life by super-gluing his wounds closed.

After surviving this incident, Escobar decided he had a bigger purpose in life. He says, “I knew that I was going to change many peoples’ lives for the better by influencing those around me with knowledge.”

He decided to travel to the United States to learn about technologies that he says are still very limited in Colombia. Thanks to UH Hilo, and an internship with the agricultural company Monsanto, his dream has become a reality.

Internships

Escobar participated in an internship with the agricultural company Monsanto on Maui last summer. He was afforded an inside view of the latest agricultural technologies and helped grow seed for multiple clients around the world. He feels that this has been an opportunity to be part of the global food security solution.

Jim Mellon, director of UH Hilo’s international student services and intercultural education programs, says Escobar’s supervisor at Monsanto said Escobar was “the best intern ever.”

Escobar interned with Monsanto on Maui last summer.
Escobar interned with Monsanto on Maui last summer. Here he stands in a field of corn.
Escobar
Escobar takes data on corn pollen in Monsanto fields on Maui.

One of the experiments he worked on while interning with the multi-national company involved determining optimal field irrigation techniques. He says, “This precision irrigation allowed us to prevent thousands of gallons of irrigation water from going to waste.”

He plans on working with the company on O‘ahu after graduation.

Previously, Escobar interned with Banacol, an international corporation doing production and marketing of agribusiness. The internship took place in Costa Rica where Escobar learned about banana and pineapple production and exporting (see photo at top of story).

Service and research

Escobar is also involved with the Agriculture Club at UH Hilo and serves as its vice president. The club organizes different community service projects, such as taro patch cleanups in Waipio Valley. They raise food at the school farm and sell it to gain funding for Senior Award Night as well as provide a majority of the food needed for a banquet held every semester at the school farm for graduates of the agriculture college and their families.

Escobar at event standing at table with large computer screen in background. In the far background are people milling around at displays.
Above, Escobar represents UH Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management at the Taste of the Hawaiian Range event in Kona, Oct. 2015.

Escobar currently is working with anthurium flowers and the accumulation of delphinidin, a primary pigment present in flowers. He hopes to change up the metabolic process of anthuriums so they are able to accumulate delphinidin, which would most likely produce a blue flower that currently doesn’t exist.

He plans to pursue a master’s degree at UH Mānoa through the tropical plant and soil sciences program before continuing on to acquire a doctorate in plant pathology.

As his ultimate goal, Escobar wishes to have a job that will allow travel between Colombia and the U.S., while being involved in the field of agricultural and laboratory development. He wants to help restore Colombia’s economy and expand its potential for growth.

“History has supporting evidence that countries after civil wars have the greatest economic growth and this is where I want to help,” he says. “We can create faster more effective agricultural solutions as well as be readily available to assist the development of the country when the civil war ends.”

He believes that by achieving a higher education he will be able to help make new scientific discoveries and help change millions of lives for the better, achieving global food security and sustainability for whole communities.

Originally Published at UH Hilo Stories