MEDB Ke Alahele Education Fund awards $20,000 for innovative STEM projects

Aug 31, 2015

Fundraiser dinner draws 550 supporters, raises $309,000 and counting
KIHEI, Maui, Hawaii – August 30, 2015 – This past Saturday’s MEDB Ke Alahele Education Fund Benefit Dinner & Auction held at The Fairmont Kea Lani attracted more than 550 community stakeholders; it also raised $309,000 (as of the time of this news release) to support Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) projects in Maui County and throughout the state.
Amongst the event’s highlights was the presentation of the Daniel K. Inouye Innovation Award.
A total of $20,000 was awarded to this year’s winners thanks to the MEDB Ke Alahele Education Fund which earmarked $10,000, and the Daniel K. Inouye Institute which matched the award with an additional $10,000. The first place winner received $10,000, second place $6,000, and third place $4,000.
The student sister team of Sarah Jenkins and Lily Jenkins of Molokai High School took first place for their “March of the Molokai Mangrove” project. The Jenkins sisters were each presented with a $2,000 award to support their continued technology pursuits. In addition, a $2,000 grant will go to their eight-year mentor, Arleon Dibben, for her environmental foundation, Nene O Moloka’i Foundation; and $4,000 in technology upgrades and equipment will benefit Molokai High School’s STEM lab.
The Red Mangrove, one of the most invasive coastal vegetation in Hawaii, has established itself along the south shore of Molokai creating havoc with coastal habitat and infringing on the island’s coral reefs.  In this first-of-its-kind study, the Jenkins team revealed the socioeconomic and ecological effects of Red Mangrove on the island which will ultimately have an impact in addressing the island’s fragile ecosystem.
The crowd at Saturday night’s dinner rose to their feet in applause as 15-year-old Lily Jenkins walked to the stage to accept the award from MEDB representatives and Jennifer Goto Sabas, Executive Director of the Daniel K. Inouye Institute.  Lily’s sister and project partner, 17-year-old Sarah, is on the Mainland where she’s enrolled at Duke University.
Visibly shaken by the honor, Lily Jenkins said her love for science dated back to the second grade when she visited her first fishpond on Molokai and immediately was intrigued by environmental conservation efforts.
“Growing up on Molokai, it’s so special,” said the daughter of Fire Captain Greg Jenkins and STEM Resource Center Heidi Jenkins, “Our environment is unique with its wetlands, Native Hawaiian plants and species, and I got to appreciate it all through science.” Jenkins said she has one other sister, Moriah, the oldest at 20 and a senior at Iowa State University, who also loves science.
“We were all blessed by MEDB and the technological tools they gave us to pursue our interest in science,” Jenkins said. “I’m just overwhelmed and really, really thankful.”
Following the award presentation, Jenkins was approached by several adults in the audience including Boeing’s Jerry Cornell. “I hope what you do is contagious,” Cornell told Jenkins. “We need to spread your passion for science. We need more young people in the field.”
Jenkins said she couldn’t agree more, and plans to move ahead with more work on “March of the Mangrove,” this time holding “community talks” on Molokai where residents will be asked to give input on a resolution.
In their research for their 2014 project, the Jenkins sisters used Geographic Information System software, known as GIS, to interpret satellite data, aerial imagery, historic maps and coastal surveys to determine the extent to which red mangroves have migrated seaward on Molokai’s south shore. The girls were also able to analyze the mangroves’ effects and predict their future impact on nearby reefs.
“If no management plan for red mangrove is adopted, this invasive species will overtake 35.67 percent of Molokai’s fringing reef in the next 100 years,” Jenkins predicted.
The two girls’ project caught the attention of ESRI, one of the largest global software companies. Founder and CEO Jack Dangermond shared a stage with the Jenkins’ sisters before 17,000 software engineers to show how they used technology for their Molokai project.
After high school, Lily Jenkins said she hopes to expand her studies in geospatial analysis. “I’d tell others: ‘Don’t be afraid to get into STEM.’ There’s a whole world out there you can see and discover.”

Second place honors went to the student team of Amber “Momi” Afelin, Kea`aokahonua Davis, and Alexandria Simon also from Molokai High School. Their project “Investigating Agar Extraction from Gracilaria salicornia,” focused on finding viable ways to efficiently remove the highly invasive seaweed Gracilaria salicornia or Gorilla Ogo from our reefs. Each team member will receive a $1,000 cash award; their teacher and mentor Scott Hemenway will also receive $3,000 for technology upgrades and equipment for Molokai High School’s STEM lab.
The student team of Jeremie Amano and Gabriel Rayburn of King Kekaulike High School captured third place for their “MISC Report-A-Pest App” project. The students developed an app that the public can use to send sightings of invasive species to MISC (Maui Invasive Specials Committee) using mobile Android devices. Both Amano and Rayburn will each receive $500; and $3,000 will go to their teacher Emily Haines-Swatek for technology upgrades and equipment for King Kekaulike High’s STEMworks lab.

Established in 2012, the Daniel K. Inouye Innovation Award is presented to the student team that demonstrates the most innovative use of STEM tools and capabilities to serve and improve our community.  Maui County students grades 6-12 are eligible to enter. For more information, visit
“Ten years ago, STEM wasn’t a household word,” said Lt. Governor Shan Tsutsui who shared the stage with his daughter Mikayla as hosts of the first-ever Family Feud Game, STEM Edition. “Now we all talk of STEM and how important it is to the success of our state. MEDB has really done a great job of unifying all the disciplines for us.”
As Lieutenant Governor, Tsutsui has traveled around the islands and on the Mainland and seen a variety of STEM initiatives. “We’re really at the forefront here on Maui. … We have something special.”
PBS Hawaii President and CEO Leslie Wilcox served as the fundraising dinner’s emcee along with King Kekaulike High School senior Maya Ooki, who is a four-year STEMWorks student. Wilcox said MEDB had the foresight to be one of the first in Hawaii to encourage STEM education including student projects in digital media.
“It’s a bright light in the state,” Wilcox said of MEDB. “I see their work reaping dividends.”
In addition to Saturday’s fundraising efforts, MEDB has also set a goal to raise $50,000 by Wednesday, September 30th to support STEM education. This fund-drive kicked off during Saturday’s dinner and will help to expand robotics, digital media and internships here at home. The public can contribute by contacting Jeanne Skog at MEDB at 875-2300 or email
Maui Electric Co. and Boeing pledged $10,000 and were joined by numerous individuals and companies to kick off the fund-drive goal of $50,000.
MEDB’s CEO and President Jeanne Unemori Skog recalled how the MEDB Ke Alahele Education Fund’s beginnings started with donors from technology companies. “This year, our donors cross all sectors, you just can’t do the 21st century successfully without STEM education.”
Skog said she and MEDB’s Education Committee members are continually impressed by grantees’ projects and technological uses in STEM education. “Our community is truly helping our young people soar into the 21st century.”
The Maui Economic Development Board is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation established in 1982 with a focus on diversifying Hawaii’s economy. MEDB partners with the private, public and nonprofit sectors at the local and national levels to achieve its goals. MEDB’s programs – which are founded on a respect for Hawaii’s culture and precious environment – assist growth industries, educate and train residents for new career pathways, and build consensus in addressing the community’s challenges and opportunities.
MEDB is governed by a 35-member Board of Directors drawn from business, government, academia and nonprofit organizations.  For more information, call 875-2300, or visit
Molokai High School junior Lily Jenkins accepted the 2015 Daniel K. Inouye Innovation Award for her and her sister, Sarah, a freshman at Duke University. The Jenkins sisters were recognized for their project, “March of the Molokai Mangrove.”
Second place honors went to the student team of Amber “Momi” Afelin (on right), Kea`aokahonua Davis, and Alexandria Simon from Molokai High School for their project “Investigating Agar Extraction from Gracilaria salicornia.”
The student team of Jeremie Amano and Gabriel Rayburn of King Kekaulike High School captured third place for their “MISC Report-A-Pest App” project.