Summer Learning from Makai to Mauka



Fifty two Hilo-area youth had a memorable opportunity to complement their six-week experience in the ‘Ike Kai program at Richardson’s Ocean Center with an all-expense-paid expedition to the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center on July 11.  Transportation, admission fees, and customized educational programming were funded through the Ilima Pi‘ianai‘a Endowment at ‘Imiloa, giving the participants a “mauka” immersion to contrast with the “makai” setting of the STEM-focused ocean awareness program, sponsored by Hawai‘i County’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation.

Participants, who ranged in age from 5 to 13, eagerly jumped off the bus at ‘Imiloa at 9:00 am, with all their gear packed mariner-style in 3-gallon buckets. They were immediately welcomed with a series of “solar stretches” in the Kamalani Garden before continuing indoors to guided activities throughout the center’s exhibit hall.  These included exploring the water cycle, Poliahu, and snow on Maunakea; tracing weather patterns and hurricanes on “Science on a Sphere,” and learning about the challenges of packing water for a long-distance sail on Hōkūle‘a.  Later in ‘Imiloa’s CYBER-Canoe they identified constellations in the night sky useful in oceanic navigation, then came back down to earth to view projections of geological changes in island land mass, predicting how the shoreline of Maui will come to resemble the barrier reefs of Tahiti and eventually the atoll of Rangiroa.  A presentation on black holes in ‘Imiloa’s planetarium rounded out the program, before the campers broke for lunch and free time to explore the center on their own.

Each of the guided activities was designed to build on components of ‘Ike Kai, a 14-year old summer program funded by Hawai‘i County which offers local youngsters an opportunity to combine daily sessions of morning work (e.g., restoring tidepools, monitoring turtle cleaning stations, learning ocean safety and marine science) and afternoon play (e.g., swimming, snorkeling, outrigger paddling, etc.) at the ocean.  At the heart of this ocean awareness program is time spent learning to sail and maintain Keaukaha’s traditional sailing canoe, Kiakahi, under the direction of its captain and ‘Ike Kai director, Kalani Kahalioumi.

Proudly observing the enthusiastic and well-informed responses of his students, Kahalioumi shared, “The majority of our kids live and go to school next to the ocean in Keaukaha, so it was great to be able to expose them to ‘Imiloa’s impressive exhibits on the Big Island’s contrasting climate zones, the sky above and universe beyond.  We’re grateful to the Pi‘ianai‘a family for making this day possible and hope to continue collaborating with ‘Imiloa on culture-based STEM enrichment programming.”

The Ilima Pi‘ianai‘a Endowment was established at ‘Imiloa in the spring of 2017 through a gift from Gordon and Norman Pi‘ianai‘a to honor the legacy of their late sister; the fund was augmented by generous matching gifts from community members and friends.  Annual distributions from the permanent endowment are specifically designated for expanding access to educational programming at ‘Imiloa, with preference to support elementary, middle and high school students of Native Hawaiian ancestry or financial need. 

Ilima Pi‘ianai‘a pursued a noteworthy career in education and public service, starting with her service as Hawai‘i County planner helping to develop a general plan for the island.  Her later appointments included director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, director of the Office of International Relations and Affairs, and deputy director of the state Department of Agriculture.  ‘Imiloa Executive Director Ka‘iu Kimura commented, “‘Imiloa is privileged to help honor Aunty Ilima through our first permanent endowment, a fund that will benefit the center in perpetuity and enable us to share our unique brand of programming with both current and future generations of young people.”  To make a gift to the Ilima Pi‘ianai‘a Endowment, please visit