Cosmic Poster Contest Stars Big Island Talent

May 14, 2009

   Combine inquisitive and creative youth with committed adults and organizations from Big Island communities and the result can be as stellar as the posters created by Hawai`i’s K-12 students for the Cosmic Poster Contest. The official winners of the contest were announced at a ceremony at Prince Kuhio Plaza on Saturday, May 2nd, during daylong free activities for AstroDay, an annual Hilo event designed to share the joy of astronomy with the general population. The gathering of winners to accept their awards was the climax of months of preparation that drew island-wide participation from the sponsors of the contest, poster judges, and participants. Those involved in the contest have experienced a process of collaboration, generosity, and creativity that has made Big Island residents the grand prize winners of the contest.

   The Mauna Kea Observatories Outreach Committee (MKOOC) and KTA Super Stores, sponsors of this year’s contest, provided their own special contribution to the success of the event.

   With representatives from all of the Mauna Kea observatories, MKOOC develops activities for residents that are in line with its mission of connecting astronomy and the observatories with the community. Kumiko S. Usuda, Ph.D., Chair of the Cosmic Poster Contest Committee and an outreach scientist in the Public Information and Outreach Office at Subaru Telescope, is an astronomer whose enthusiasm for developing interesting ways to educate students about astronomy is contagious. She not only developed the idea for the Cosmic Poster Contest but also invented and crafted a 56-card set of Mauna Kea Brand Astronomy Trading Cards, which were one of the prizes for the poster contest winners. This year’s contest had special meaning for Kumiko because her daughter, fourth grader Serena Usuda, won first place in both East Hawai`i’s K-5 category and the island-wide contest. Since the KTA and astronomy judges assessed the posters without knowing their creators’ names, Kumiko was thrilled by the surprising news that her daughter had received two of the top honors in the contest.

   KTA Superstores has also contributed to the poster contest in various ways, from branch stores serving as collection points for the posters and providing judges for the contest to donating prizes. They will display the posters of regional winners so that friends, family, and others can view the achievements of their local students.

   Tracey Yamane, KTA’s Advertising Promotions Manager, collected and tallied the posters from each district and also served as a judge in the contest. She said that KTA’s contribution was a way of giving back to their customers, who have supported them in their 90-year history on the island. Tracey expressed the personal satisfaction she felt from being involved in the contest: “It was really a sight to see all 300 entries laid out on the tables. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and pride. It made me feel good. It made the students proud to create nice posters. They are our future leaders.”

   KTA Superstores, a locally owned, family business, has a long history of community support and involvement on the Big Island. Japanese immigrants Taniyo and Koichi Taniguchi started their 500 square foot grocery and dry goods store in Waiakea Town in 1916 with the thought that their success would come from providing service and value to their customers. With the poster contest, a third generation of the family continues their tradition of gratitude to Big Island residents for contributing to their success.

   Jon Lomberg, an internationally renowned artist inspired by astronomy, served as the judge who selected the island-wide winners from among the district winners. Jon specializes in designing and implementing visual presentations about astronomy in all media. He was astronomer Carl Sagan’s principal artistic collaborator, illustrating most of his books and magazine articles and has been involved in diverse creative projects too numerous to name. A resident of the Big Island for over 22 years, Jon is passionate about educating the public about astronomy. As long as he can remember, he thought that astronomy was the most interesting thing in the world. He emphasizes, “Science is not just good for people who are good with numbers. The enterprise of science requires all the skills that humans possess. It includes art, interpersonal dynamics, communication and teaching skills. Whatever your interests and skills, there’s a place for you in science.”

   Jon generously gave his time to judge the posters, which he thought could motivate students to be involved in astronomy. He commented, “I could tell that the kids were very interested in what they were doing. The posters showed a lot of depth of knowledge of astronomy and Hawaiian culture. All were quite good.”

   The awards ceremony was the outcome of the judging by Jon Lomberg in the island-wide contest and of the KTA and astronomer judges in the district contests. Standing out with their twinkling star leis of red, white, and blue lights and identified by nametags with pictures of their posters laminated inside, the winners in each of the Big Island’s districts received their certificates of accomplishment and prizes from MKOOC’s Kumiko S. Usuda and KTA’s Tracey Yamane. In addition to recognizing the district winners in each grade category, six island-wide winners, selected from the district winners, were announced for the first time. The six island-wide winners were: Serena Usuda (1st) and Tatiana Shelden (2nd ) in the Grade K-5 category; Victoria Birrenbach (1st) and Raymond Tanase (2nd) in the Grade 6-8 category; and Kyra Blue (tied for 1st) and Kadi Igawa (tied for 1st) in the Grade 9-12 category.

   Involvement in the contest has meant so much to so many people. Victoria Birrenbach, first place winner in the 6-8 grade category in the West District and also in the island-wide contest, traveled 2 ½ hours with her parents from West Hawaii to be part of the awards ceremony. She could hardly contain her excitement at placing 1st in her district and on the island. She exclaimed, “It was so worth the ride.” Her mother added, “It's the happiest thing that’s ever happened to her.”

Kumiko S. Usuda presents award to West Hawai`i
4th grader Justyn A. Toyama as “Galileo” looks on.

Winners and the Committee members on the stage at the awards ceremony (left) and in front of the display with their posters (right) at Subaru + Kids Corner on AstroDay

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