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.

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.


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 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


New Business Course Emphasizes Community Outreach

Professor of Management Jerry Calton wants business students to change the world for the positive, one venture at a time.

Jerry Calton
Jerry Calton

A new business course offered at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is the brainchild of Jerry Calton, a professor of management and chair of the business department. Currently taught as Business Planning for New Ventures (MGT 425), Calton will be submitting the new course proposal this year to establish a new focus and rename the course Social Entrepreneurship.

The original class included the conventional small venture planning steps, but the new course—which has been taught for awhile now—adds goals and measures for social and environmental performance that Calton describes as “an innovative approach… in the context of founding a profit-seeking business venture.”

The goal is to challenge business students to engage creatively and collaboratively with the local business community to help form new businesses and help improve existing ones that will have positive social impacts. In essence, Calton wants students to change the world for the positive, one venture at a time.

“Business managers who have been traditionally trained, tend to focus too narrowly upon the single bottom line… they tend to be insensitive to ethical concerns or the concerns of other stakeholders,” he says. “The end result is that we have a business model that sometimes tempts managers to get as close to the line of the law as possible on the assumption that the closer you are to breaking the law, the more money you are going to make. This can lead to a kind of moral amnesia.”

Calton holds a doctor of philosophy in history and a doctor of philosophy in management, both from the University of Washington. He focuses his research and teaching activities on exploring ways to integrate improved social and environmental performance into the operations and decision-making processes of business firms. His idea in designing the new management course is to build awareness and foster manager interaction with a variety of stakeholders and their interests.

“To be a manager, you need to be embedded in the middle of a community conversation or stakeholder network,” he explains.

Community outreach

Christine Osterwalder
Christine Osterwalder

This semester, the class is taught by Christine Osterwalder, a lecturer at UH Hilo who holds a master in business administration from the Drucker School of Management at Claremont, which is known for its focus on educating the business executive as a whole person, with emphasis on the balanced scorecard and ethics. Osterwalder has over 30 years of marketing experience and has been teaching at UH Hilo for seven years.

“I love seeing the students’ creativity,” she says.  “It’s exciting to work on something that matters but to also keep in mind successful business planning practices. I think when students have good ideas, the local community benefits because each of the (students’) projects is tied to a real life organization.”

Pelenatete Leilua
Pelenatete Leilua

Pelenatete Leiluaa UH Hilo student majoring in business administration, took the course and says that it has been her favorite class to date. For her final project, Leilua and her cohort worked with The Makery in downtown Hilo, creating online promotional mediums to help market the organization’s artwork.

Nixon Jack is a UH Hilo senior majoring in business administration. He leads the Community Service Committee for the Lambda Psi Chapter of the professional business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi and is a member of the Hilo Chamber of Commerce.  Jack is taking the course this spring.

Nixon Jack
Nixon Jack

“Businesses, whether they intend to or not, have the potential to have a massive effect on individuals, communities or even the world,” he says. “I am eager to see the next big trend in corporate social responsibility.”

Professor Calton stresses the importance of building and maintaining long-term relationships and the need for ethics and an examination of one’s preconceptions, methods and procedures. “You need to have mechanisms that incorporate multiple voices,” he says.

In fact, a major aspect of the management course is networking, with one of its main points hinging on the active recruitment of mentors and supportive community members by student teams. After these teams have made contacts and built various working relationships, they can then have a sounding board to test assumptions, identify resources and plan viable business ventures.

At semester’s end, students are given the opportunity to present their community projects before a panel of faculty from the College of Business and Economics and members of the local business community. Some past social entrepreneurship plans have included a proposal to house the homeless, an idea for a “slow food” hub that would help improve nutrition and increase sales for local farmers, and the promotion of Hawaiian music classes in public schools.

The course will be offered online this summer, which is a great opportunity for students, especially considering that it is typically offered once per year, rather than every semester.

Originally published at UH Hilo Stories

Beauty Forgotten

Heavy wind-feathered, soft water seas,
Cotton-wet clouds and a northerly breeze

Heart sighing, mind enlightened,
Protectors take flight for those who are frightened

Light filters through windows, illuminating my words
While a thousand little thoughts, fly away like tiny little birds

A sun warmed magnificent terrain,
beauty-colored landscapes abiding in gentle refrain

Life lives and life grows,
Life passes, life goes

Standing in the shadows, looking down from on-high,
Simple beauty, easily forgotten, as it passes us by

©2016 Lara Hughes

The Chemistry of the Universe

UH Hilo undergraduate Jasmin Silva started her journey into astronomy research when she received a NASA Hawai‘i Space Grant Consortium fellowship in 2015.

Jasmin at computer, fronting several screens with data on desk and wall.

Jasmin Silva

Jasmin Silva, a junior at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, is working alongside mentor Kathy Cooksey, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, conducting research contributing to the understanding of the gaseous structures surrounding galaxies and how they evolve over time. It is a way of understanding the chemistry of the universe and what has been created by stars.

Silva, a double major in physics and astronomy with a minor in mathematics, started her journey into research and discovery when she received a NASA Hawai‘i Space Grant Consortium fellowship for the spring and fall 2015 semesters. This fellowship allows undergraduate students enrolled in fields relevant to NASA’s goals to do research alongside a mentor who is typically a faculty member.

Silva has been working on her project, “Understanding Galactic Evolution through Absorption,” under the guidance of Cooksey, a highly accomplished astronomer who arrived at UH Hilo in 2014. Cooksey researches the large-scale gaseous structure in the universe to understand how various elements cycle in and out of galaxies over cosmic time. Her specific area of expertise is the intergalactic medium (IGM), the gas surrounding and between galaxies.

From Waiakea High School to astronomy research

Silva is using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to construct and analyze quasar absorption-line spectra of the cosmos. Some of this work is done remotely at the UH Hilo campus. Silva was also able to observe with the 10-m Keck II Telescope, which is located on Maunakea but data collection is done remotely at the headquarters in Waimea.

The initial interest in the fellowship was sparked by a classroom encounter. Silva was enrolled in one of Cooksey’s classes already having taken physics at Waiakea High School, and this proved helpful.

Cooksey notes, “She was more advanced at some levels and focused on getting her astronomy degree.”

Silva says, “Kathy asked me to do research with her, but before that it was definitely in my head that sometime in my career I would do research. If you want to go to graduate school a lot of it is research. I figured I would want to get that kind of experience, then Kathy gave me a good opportunity.”

It was the first applied learning experience for Silva as a student.

The boost of applied learning

Something that Silva really appreciated about the fellowship was the fact that undergraduates were able to have the experience of writing their own research proposal and organizing a time scale in which to carry it out.

She explains, “It’s important for the future, when you are applying for grants or fellowships, to know how to do that.”

Silva also feels that the applied learning experience encourages students and allows them to see what they are capable of— “It helps me be more confident that I can do graduate school in the future.”

Cooksey herself conducted many research projects as an undergraduate and feels that the experience gained in applied learning is necessary for those wishing to continue on to graduate school.

She says, “Computer skills, thought processes… grad school wants you to hit the ground running. It’s great that the UH System is a Space Grant Institution that is allowed to get this NASA (funding) to pay for interns to get them started. Jasmin is now in a better position to get into more prestigious programs.”

Silva just finished her final semester of research with the fellowship but has continued to work independently with Cooksey. She is also applying to other internship opportunities and grants, including a summer internship with Gemini Observatories.

She feels that her undergraduate education has been supplemented by the fellowship. Silva believes that the experience has helped prepare her to educate the public about the science community (she serves as an astronomy educator in the Hilo-Waiākea Complex Area) and she encourages other university students to apply for similar opportunities.

She plans to continue on to graduate school.

Originally published at UH Hilo Stories

New Energy Science Certificate Program at UH Hilo

The importance of the program for UH Hilo students is that regardless of degree area, graduates will have improved opportunities to enter employment in the energy sector.

Philippe Binder
Philippe Binder

The University of Hawai’i at Hilo’s Curriculum Review Committee has just approved a new Energy Science Certificate Program developed by Professor of Physics Philippe Binder.

Bruce Mathews, interim dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management (CAFNRM), has been working with Binder on the development of the certificate program.

“The importance (of the certificate) for this generation is that regardless of their degree area our students will have improved opportunities to enter employment in the energy sector and in particular renewable energy,” says Mathews. “It will allow employers in the local energy sector to better consider our graduates as viable candidates.”

Bruce Mathews
Bruce Mathews

Initial financing for the certificate program comes from UH Hilo and the County of Hawai‘i Department of Research and Development. The county funds are helping with curriculum development, hands-on service project design, and intercollegiate collaboration. Binder says the Hawai‘i County Council has acknowledged the importance of energy science by granting the program start-up funding.

The program

The 15-credit certificate has two concentrations. One is intended for students in the natural sciences or CAFNRM programs and can lead to potential careers in technical areas. The second is geared toward policy and management, which is suitable for students of any major, but especially those pursuing business and social science degrees.

Shihwu Sung in office.
Shihwu Sung

Pre-certificate courses such as physics and chemistry are currently available at UH Hilo, and core courses are being offered in sustainable bioenergy production and biochemical energy conversion, the latter being taught by Professor Shihwu Sung of CAFNRM.  Sung is globally renowned for his expertise in environmental engineering.

Beginning in summer and fall this year, certificate offerings will include several core engineering and energy science classes that will count toward the certificate.

Paul Hirt
Paul Hirt

Mathews says that summer courses will be offered on energy and the environment and on advancing renewable energy, the latter of which will be taught by Paul Hirt, a visiting scholar from Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability. Fall courses will include the topics of energy, economics and the environment, alternative energies and perhaps more.

There also is interest in expanding the certificate into a four-year degree should the program be successful. Binder says the idea would be to add subject matter such as electronics, fluid mechanics, and other materials that would make graduates more flexible. He feels that Hawai‘i is a great place for alternative energy and its development and believes that it is a necessity in the move to become self sufficient.

“We need to think about energy that we can grow or collect here rather than fossil fuels that have to come from outside,” explains Binder, “both because of the opportunities provided by sun, wind, water and all of the things that can be grown… and because I think there is already an effort going on.”

Originally published at UH Hilo Stories

Wēkiu Bug Research Atop Maunakea

Jessica Kirkpatrick’s research examines wēkiu bug habitat restoration possibly needed after decommissioning of three observatories on Maunakea.

Jessica and Jesse

Jessica Kirkpatrick, a graduate student with the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, is conducting research on the native wēkiu bug found only on the summit cinder cones of Maunakea.

Kirkpatrick’s research, under the tutelage of Jesse Eiben, an assistant professor of applied entomology at UH Hilo, involves understanding wēkiu bug habitat in order to provide information for possible habitat restoration following the scheduled decommissioning and removal of three observatories on Maunakea.

Kirkpatrick is studying the requirements needed for wēkiu bug habitat such as the mineral composition, temperature and slope of cinder cones, and is correlating those requirements with wēkiu bug dispersion patterns to find habitat that is most closely associated with stable, high density wēkiu bug populations.

This information can be used to recreate habitat that is most favorable for the bugs and can help estimate population densities.

“You can use that same kind of data to then measure the success of restored populations,” explains Kirkpatrick. “This study is kind of like a baseline of wēkiu bug habitat before restoration activities.”

The budding entomologist also is making recommendations to the Office of Maunakea Management regarding the best methods for monitoring wēkiu bugs.

Applied learning at UH Hilo

Kirkpatrick graduated three years ago from UH Hilo with a bachelor of science in environmental science and credits the applied learning experiences she had as an undergraduate with preparing her for the current research she’s doing.

“As an undergraduate I really enjoyed the classes and a lot of my friends were in the graduate program,” she says. “I always told myself that this (graduate program) is where I am going to end up.”

Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Science

Jessica Kirkpatrick during her internship
Jessica Kirkpatrick

While in the UH Hilo undergraduate program, Kirkpatrick was able to intern with the Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Science (PIPES) and worked with the Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Program at Volcanoes National Park.

“It was the best summer of my life,” she recalls. “We got to hike down to all the cool beaches and monitor for turtles. It would be all night long, but it was a good experience. I have really good friends and really good connections from that internship.”

After graduating with her bachelor of science degree, she again joined PIPES and worked with Prof. Eiben. It was here that she got her first introduction to entomology, examining arthropod biodiversity on Maunakea alongside an expert in the field.

Office of Maunakea Management

Kirkpatrick interned with Eiben and the Office of Maunakea Management at the same time. Upon completion of her internship, the office hired her to be a resource management assistant. Kirkpatrick stayed in that position for three years and helped write the Maunakea Invasive Species Management Plan.

These experiences helped peak her interest in the wēkiu bug and encouraged her decision to enter into the UH Hilo tropical conservation biology and environmental science graduate program.

Teaching and Research Arthropod Collection

Kirkpatrick attributes much of her interest in the wēkiu bug to the enthusiasm that Prof. Eiben shared with her during her undergraduate internship. Eiben is now her mentor and adviser for the master’s program, and in addition to the wēkiu bug habitat research, he has welcomed her assistance in the development of the recently established Teaching and Research Arthropod Collection lab at the UH Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management.

Goals for the lab include creating a functional space for students and researchers to be involved with arthropod research and education, and to make the numerous arthropod specimens in the university’s custodianship available as an informational resource for the community.

Future plans for Kirkpatrick include continued work with arthropods on Maunakea and the possible pursuit of a doctorate in forest entomology.

Originally published at UH Hilo Stories

Postcard from Maunakea: Deltasigs

Members of the UH Hilo Lambda Psi Chapter spent a day with others from the community pulling invasive weeds on Maunakea.

Pulling weeds on Maunakea.

Members of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Lambda Psi Chapter of Delta Sigma Pi gathered at the Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM) on campus one morning last month to start their field trip to help with invasive species removal on Maunakea. Delta Sigma Pi is a professional fraternity organized to foster the study of business in universities. A requirement of the fraternity is that members give back to the community through group service.

The group of 33 UH Hilo students and community members were present and poised to get their hands dirty at the 9,500 ft. elevation level. The trip marked the first volunteer effort of 2016 by the Lambda Psi Chapter Deltasigs. It was also the first invasive species eradication effort of the year offered by OMKM; the event was organized by Fritz Klasner, natural resource program manager, Amber Stillman, resource information specialist, and Darby Yogi, natural resource program assistant.

Volunteers stand for group photo. The author of the story Lara Hughes is at far left. Click to enlarge.
Deltasigs and others from the local community took part. Lara Hughes at far left.

“Our overarching goal at the Office of Maunakea Management is to malama Maunakea,” says Stephanie Nagata, director of the office. “Taking care of 12,000 acres is a daunting task, but with collaborative community partnerships we can accomplish much.”

[RELATED: The Maunakea Invasive Species Management Plan.]

Van rides, water, tools and lunch were provided to the Deltasigs by OMKM, and the mountain scenery was free. The group arrived at Halepōhaku and Deltasigs Lara Hughes, Midori Matsuo and Nixon Jack were given gloves, tools and garbage bags before hitting the slopes near the Maunakea Visitor’s Center.

Invasive fire weed was the main target, and the Deltasigs were able to contribute four bags of weeds to the overall total of approximately 29 bags of invasive species of plants removed that day.

A tour was conducted for the volunteers by OMKM staff, and the group was able to view a series of native plant species including the māmane, ā‘wēowe‘o and majestic āhinahina or endangered Maunakea silversword.

A lunch buffet at Halepōhaku was accompanied by socializing and followed up with a presentation by Jessica Kirkpatrick, a UH Hilo graduate student from the tropical conservation and environmental science program, who now serves as resource management assistant at OMKM and spoke on the native arthropod population existing on Maunakea.

The group headed back down the mountain arriving in Hilo around 3:30 p.m.

For information about service events through the OMKM Natural Resources Program on Maunakea, visit the website and sign-up to receive emails.

Visit Lambda Psi on Facebook.

Via UH Hilo Stories