New Scholarship Launches With Surprise Award to Honoka‘a Senior

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Honoka‘a High School senior Keilani Steele is the first Maunakea Scholar to be awarded the new Hōkūala Scholarship: $10,000 to attend the college of her choice in pursuit of an astronomy degree. 

New scholarship awarded to Keilani Steele. Courtesy Photo

At a Maunakea Speakers presentation at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, Steele was on stage to present her leading-edge research enabled by the Maunakea Scholars program. Steele received an observing run at the Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope last year and recently finished another observing run at W. M. Keck Observatory—research opportunities professional astronomers compete for worldwide. She is now preparing for her first year of college to advance her ambitions to be an astronomer.

The program paused for a set of surprise announcements including new additions to the community of supporters collaborating to advance educational opportunities for local students interested in pursuing astronomy.

  • The Paul H.I. Coleman Endowed Scholarship for Astronomy, established by Newton and Roberta Chu with a $35,000 gift to the University of Hawai‘i Foundation, honors the late astronomer Paul Coleman, the first Native Hawaiian with a doctorate in physics and beloved member of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Institute for Astronomy (IfA) faculty. The scholarship in his memory will support students pursuing degrees in astronomy within the University of Hawai‘i system.
  • The Maunakea Scholars program is now partnering with the University of Hawai‘i’s Mānoa Academy. Starting in the 2018/19 school year, high school students attending Hawai‘i Island schools hosting the Maunakea Scholars program will be able to take, at no cost, UH on-line astronomy courses, receiving college credit in the process. A $50,000 grant from Hawai‘i Community Foundation is enabling this exciting expansion of the Maunakea Scholars program.
  • The $10,000 Hōkūala (rising star) Scholarship is the latest addition to the Maunakea Scholars program. This scholarship will be awarded annually to one or more top performing seniors in the Maunakea Scholars program who are going on to study astronomy in college. For students attending the University of Hawaii, the scholarship award also includes a commitment of mentorship by a leader in Maunakea astronomy throughout each recipient’s undergraduate education.

Maunakea Scholars is a unique program worldwide that grants Hawai‘i public high school students access to the world’s most powerful collection of telescopes. Now entering its fourth year, the Maunakea Scholars program is working with the community to create a pathway for local students to take advantage of the best telescopes on the best site for astronomy on earth—Maunakea—and grow into rewarding careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). Through these initiatives and more, Hawai‘i is literally creating a generation of explorers that will help unlock the mysteries of the universe.


Steele was selected for the first Hōkūala Scholarship because of her extraordinary work as a junior and senior at Honoka’a High School in the Maunakea Scholars program. During the 2016/17 school year, through observations at CFHT, Steele and Hoku Sanchez discovered a new Herbig Haro object (a forming star) during their study of dark nebulae. Steele submitted a follow-up observing proposal during the 2017/18 school year to explore the nature of dark matter through measurements of the motions of stars in the gravitational influence of dark matter. The nearby dwarf Draco galaxy is a “dark matter laboratory” so she acquired data on stars in that faint galaxy at Keck Observatory using their DEIMOS multi-object spectrometer. These measurements of the motions of stars in the Draco dwarf galaxy will allow her to determine the dark matter content of this elusive object. The data acquired could serve as the basis for her undergraduate research efforts and, from there, a very bright future in astronomy.

For more information about the Maunakea Scholars and astronomy opportunities for students, visit online.


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