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Mottley’s sea-level-rise research wins multiple awards

LIHU‘E — Kai Mottley, a junior at Kaua‘i High, scored big at the 2021 Kaua‘i Regional Science and Engineering Fair, with his project examining how sea-level rise will impact native species.

Mottley won the KRSEF’s environmental sciences award, NOAA’s 2021 Taking the Pulse of the Planet Award, the NASA Earth System Science Project Award and the Yale Science and Engineering Association award.

Mottley’s project used geographic information system (GIS) mapping functions to locate native species’ habitat and project their future based on sea-level rise.

“Through that, I was able to find out how much native species habitats would be affected or like drowned by the sea level rise,” Mottley said.

“The project showed that many of our native and endemic species will be affected in the upcoming years due to sea-level rise. And it’s important that we act soon. I feel like that’s the main takeaway.”

Only Kaua‘i High in the senior division and St. Theresa in the junior division opted to participate in this year’s fair, and many of them are rewarded by qualification for the state fair.

In the senior division, Emma Burgess took second place, Elise Yukimura and Sofia Town landed in third, Angeline Chan and Juliet Martin wound up in fourth place, and Kailee Oyama took fifth.

In the junior division, representing St. Theresa School in Kekaha, in first place is Denali Chun. Keaupuni Miyake ended second, and Kapi‘iwi Kenny third.

Chun, a sixth-grader, is winner of the KRSEF’s behavior science award, and is excited to be heading to the state fair.

“I feel proud and excited,” said Chun. “I was told I was the first sixth-grader to go to the state. I felt proud of myself and my accomplishments. My project was about texting and how it could be a future method of communication. My project will be going onto the state (fair) and reviewed again. I’m hoping to go higher and strive for more awards.”

Mom Denise Chun is proud of her daughter’s accomplishments. She said she watched Denali work really hard to put it all together.

“Both of us were surprised and honored to have placed in the regional fair and moving on to the state,” Denise Chun said. “(With) the limited activities outside of school due to COVID, the science fair provided an opportunity for Denali to apply what she was taught in school, and she also learned new skills that she can use in the future.”

The fair awards ceremony was held virtually. Twenty students and their entries advance to the state fair next month.

Daniel Matthews, KRSEF director, took over the program from the state Department of Education, and the 2021 fair was his first event. He reached out to seven Kaua‘i schools, but only two chose to participate. Matthews said he is hoping more schools will join in the future.

”Traditionally, they’ve (DOE) been running the science fair, but because of change in leadership and one of their employees left, the state of Hawai‘i approached me and said, ‘would you pick this up?’” Matthews said. “So this year the science fair was all-volunteer, and it was completely virtual.”

Matthews said he has been running science fairs for 40 years, and has experience on the science fair board in Silicon Valley, California.

There were 53 students participating in this year’s fair.

Dustin Wolkis, seed bank and laboratory manager at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, said he volunteered as a judge because he deeply cares about science education and supporting research on Kaua‘i.

“These students are the future of STEM on our island, and judging at the science fair is my small way of supporting our rising scientists,” Wolkis said.

“My first experience volunteering at science fairs was at the International Science and Engineering Fair held in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2013, and I have been judging at school and the KRSEF since 2016.”

Wolkis said that despite the COVID-19 pandemic and in some cases as a response to it, many of the students presented extremely-creative projects with extensive methodology. It was clear to him that many of the students worked exceptionally hard collecting data.

“Judging at the KRSEF is as rewarding an experience as they come,” Wolkis said.

“The passion these young researchers have for their projects really shines through, and is infectious. After viewing projects and speaking with students, you have no choice but to smile and feel good about the world. These young scientists are the future of STEM on Kaua‘i, and I am overjoyed to play a small role in their early-research activities.”


Stephanie Shinno, education, business and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or
Source: The Garden Island

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