Protecting Hawai‘i’s water future: Training the next generation of scientists

by S. Anne Wallace

Encouraging critical thinking about water sustainability, Kapi‘olani Community College (KCC) offers students a unique learning experience in fieldwork, lab work, and experimental design. Science 295 (SCI 295) is a student-centered variable topic course. During the Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 semesters, one section, cross-listed as Geology & Geophysics 399 at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM), focuses on the value, history, and quality of water within the Hawaiian Islands.

Funded by the ‘Ike Wai project, and supported by the Kapo‘oloku Program for Native Hawaiian Student Success, SCI 295 is led by Dr. Jennifer Engels, Program Manager of the ‘Ike Wai Undergraduate Scholars Program, and Dr. Henrietta Dulai, associate professor in the Department of Geology & Geophysics at UHM.

‘Ike Wai is fully committed to water science research, community engagement, and educating a diverse new generation of scholars with strong ties to our local community. The ‘Ike Wai Undergraduate Scholars Program aims to recruit underrepresented students, offering training, mentoring, and research experiences in water science and broadly related fields.  SCI 295 successfully meets this goal, providing professional development and training for underrepresented students, many Native Hawaiian, who are deeply invested in our local community. Aunty Keolani Noa, Native Hawaiian Academic Advancement Coordinator at KCC, says “The ‘Ike Wai research model of “Merging Moʻolelo with Science” is an investment of the local voices whose purpose is embedded in Hawaii resources.”


“ʻO ka ʻIKE WAI kahua noiʻi o ka hoʻopilipili ʻana i nā moʻolelo a me ke akeakamai,
he hoʻopuka kēia i ka mākia o nā leo kamaʻāina e kūpa’a nei i nā kumuwaiwai o Hawaiʻi.” – Aunty Keolani Noa


With particular focus on Ahupua‘a and Hawai‘i’s groundwater, students work collaboratively to learn about water cycles. They receive hands-on research experience in water quality testing and learn how to analyze shoreline water at specific points for chemical tracers. These tracers can persist in the environment as contaminant micro-pollutants from human sources, such as cesspools, as they seep into the ocean via groundwater flow. In lab, students learn various research skills and techniques.

Left photo: SCI 295 students collecting submarine groundwater discharge from Black Point with Dr. Dulai.
Right photo: Dr. Dulai (left), Ku‘i Keliipuleole (mentor, center back), and SCI 295 students with collected water samples in lab.


For their final projects, students will present their research results at the KCC Student Undergraduate Research Fair (SURF) Symposium (December 6th from 2pm-3pm at KCC ‘Ōhi‘a Cafeteria). Dr. Engels emphasizes how “SCI 295 has been such a rewarding class to teach because the students are driving the research – they formulated the field work plan, collected and analyzed the data, and are writing up the results. Their enthusiasm about water is contagious.” The experience SCI 295 offers is a valuable learning experience for students, providing relevant, real world applications of water science. Hawai‘i’s ocean is a treasured, invaluable resource, and must be protected for future generations.

‘Ike Wai is a National Science Foundation EPSCoR funded project (award #1557349). For more information on ‘Ike Wai, please contact PI Gwen Jacobs ( or Co-PI and Education Director Barbara Bruno (