NASA funding boosts underrepresented engineering students

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male with three containers

A Waiakea student checks his experiment using aerosol measurement equipment.

The success of Hawaiʻi’s Engaged Science Technology Engineering Math Pathways (HESTEMP) project activities have resulted in two additional NASA grants. The project, spearheaded in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Engineering, establishes and strengthens research and educational pathways to support the success of underrepresented and minority ethnicities.

The participating HESTEMP students include Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Micronesians and Filipinos. In the last two years, demographics have been extended to include Chamorros of Guam, and plans are underway to add Marshallese of the Republic of Marshall Islands.

“From their high school years until these students receive their advanced graduate degrees, we provide one-to-one mentorship and guidance,” said Dilmurat Azimov, principal investigator and associate professor of mechanical engineering. “The expectation is that our team provides the pathway to guide and help students reach their highest academic level possible and become experts in their chosen research areas. We help them start their careers.”

NASA granted the first additional award based on the progress of one of HESTEMP’s key projects related to unmanned aerial drones. The three-year $680,154 grant is under the NASA Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program. The goal is to create real-time and autonomous control technology for drones with a broad range of applications.

The second NASA grant, worth $299,987 over two years, uses nine key projects of HESTEMP. Azimov and his team plan to work with minority-serving institutions to create continuous and sustainable workshops and training sessions that enhance institutional capacity.

“Our successes and progress in HESTEMP and other efforts have allowed us to expand research and education efforts for other minority colleges and universities, including the University of Guam and the College of Marshall Islands in the Pacific region,” said Azimov. “These efforts enhance our ability to secure extramural funding.”