Hawaii and the Castle Foundation Celebrate Root for Innovation

August 22, 2021, 4:29 PM HST
* Updated August 22, 12:34 PM
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This summer, Elemental Excelerator launched Root for Innovation, a new initiative that provides innovation and entrepreneurship learning experiences for Hawaiʻi-based high school students. The effort is part of Elemental Excelerator’s larger strategy to develop a climate workforce and inspire 10,000 climate jobs over the next five years in Hawaiʻi and beyond, with a focus on career opportunities for underrepresented communities. 

Root for Innovation, co-sponsored by the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, matches high school students with Teach for America fellows participating in an externship with Elemental. Over two months, teachers and students worked in teams to research the climate tech innovation landscape, participate in the work of Elemental Excelerator, and develop curriculum and programming to be implemented at Hawaiʻi public schools for the 2021-22 academic year.

“Achieving our state’s ambitious climate goals is going to take more than innovative technology, it requires bright minds and a highly qualified workforce,” said Tiffany Huynh, Director of External Affairs, Elemental Excelerator. “Root for Innovation is just one of our initiatives redesigning the systems at the root of climate change, while uplifting people and communities around the world.”

The 10 students, all of whom are rising juniors or seniors attending public high schools, worked in a virtual environment up to 15 hours per week, and attended up to two hours per week of professional development and learning opportunities. Students were selected from ʻAiea, Campbell, Nānākuli, Waiʻanae, Waipahu high schools on Oʻahu, and Konawaena, Kealakehe, and Keaʻau high schools on Hawaiʻi Island. Upon completion of the eight-week summer program, each student receives a $1,500 grant.

“Climate technology is an important and exciting field that presents meaningful teaching and career opportunities,” said Alex Harris, vice president for programs at the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation. “Root for Innovation gives students and teachers valuable, first-hand experience of the inner workings of one of the world’s top climate tech accelerators – right here in Hawaiʻi. We see this investment as a compelling opportunity to help prepare young people from Hawaiʻi for the future.” 


A complete list of high school students and teachers participating in Elemental’s 2021 Root for Innovation program is below.


2021 Root for Innovation students:

  • April Acosta (Waipahu HS)
  • Sophia Burgess (Konawaena HS)
  • Sophia Coloma (Campbell HS)
  • Madison Elie (Waipahu HS)
  • Chrissy Hagemann (ʻAiea HS)
  • David Jimenez (Konawaena HS)
  • Renny Kaholo-Hiapo (Keaʻau HS)
  • Anuhea Spinola (Konawaena HS)
  • Rei Vasquez (Waiʻanae HS)
  • Michaella Villanueva (ʻAiea HS)

2021 Teach for America fellows: 

  • Ethan Ahuna (Waiʻanae HS) 
  • Liz Gaccione, (DreamHouse ʻEwa Beach)
  • Berit DeGrandpre (ʻAiea HS)
  • Brittany Yadao (Kamaile Academy) 
  • Shay Zykova (Waiʻanae HS)

Root for Innovation Event on 8/24/2021


On Tuesday, August 24 at 4PM HST, Teach for America (TFA) teachers and high school students will be part of an inaugural event, Root for Innovation: Bringing Systems Change and Innovation into the Classroom. Come learn about the exciting work that TFA teachers and high school students have done throughout their Summer Fellowships in partnership with some of Hawaiʻi’s leading change makers! At this event, you will be in the company of students, teachers, administrators, and community leaders as we all dive into what Teach for America Summer Fellows have learned and developed as a result of their experience with their host organizations.

This event is open to community leaders, those in the education ecosystem, organizations looking to fund similar activities, and beyond. If you’re interested in learning more about inspiring climate action, please join us! More information on how to RSVP is available here:

In addition to Root for Innovation, Elemental Excelerator hosts an annual summer internship program connecting college students with opportunities to work in paid internships at climate tech companies, along with Empowering Diversity in Clean Tech (EDICT), an initiative working toward an equitable, resilient and decarbonized future. All three programs are part of Elemental’s five-year strategy to build a local climate workforce and create climate jobs in Hawaiʻi. 

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