Akamai Workforce Initiative Receives Presidential Award

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The Akamai Workforce Initiative received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). The honor comes with an award of $10,000, a sponsored visit to Washington for the Recognition Event and a citation signed by the President. Akamai Director, Lisa Hunter, and Emeritus Professor Jerome Shaw attended the Recognition Event on behalf of the talented team earning this award.

Lisa Hunter and Jerome Shaw at PAESMEM award ceremony. Courtesy photo.

The Institute for Scientist & Engineer Educators (ISEE), who developed and leads Akamai, received the PAESMEM for helping to develop a local science and engineering workforce for observatories on Maunakea and Haleakala in Hawai‘i, including two new telescopes, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (under construction) and the Thirty Meter Telescope (planned). ISEE also leads the international training program for the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory, whose major partners include the University of California, the California Institute of Technology, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Department of Science and Technology of India, and the National Research Council (Canada).

ISEE’s achievement in Hawai‘i flows from its having used the latest research on student success in STEM to create the Akamai Internship Program, which helps interns deepen their sense of belonging in the field through work that will make a real contribution to their host sites and intensive training in problem solving and communication skills most valued by employers. As Director Hunter explains, “Our mentoring focuses on coaching students to think and work like engineers or scientists, and how to become a valued member of a team.”

One of the most notable measures of Akamai’s mentoring success is having doubled the usual rate of student persistence in STEM education and STEM careers-from 40% to 80%-and by growing the local telescope workforce with these efforts, the program has helped diversify Hawai‘i’s observatories. “Local workforce development is crucial to the success of telescopes in Hawai‘i, and mentoring is one of the most effective ways to bring young people into the workforce.”


ISEE is poised to expand and disseminate effective mentoring practices beyond the Akamai program. The Institute is developing a unique workshop for mentors and innovative ways to assess outcomes of effective mentoring, and is working to secure long-term funding for Akamai. ISEE has hundreds of alumni who are now in professional positions across the U.S. and are part of a national network that is enabling ISEE to take lessons learned from Akamai to new fields and contexts.

ISEE is the legacy of the Center for Adaptive Optics (CfAO) UC Santa Cruz and University of California Observatories. Through 10 years of funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Science and Technology Center program, the CfAO developed and refined the Akamai Program. After CfAO funding, Akamai and ISEE’s mentoring efforts have been supported by NSF Astronomy, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory (TIO), the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, Hawai‘i Community Foundation and others. The TIO is now Akamai’s major funder.


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