Mayor Captures the Interest of Students in a Lively Talk Story Exchange

December 4, 2009

County of Hawai`i Mayor Billy Kenoi clearly enjoyed his role in the Galileo Block Party, sponsored by the Mauna Kea Observatories Outreach Committee (MKOOC) as a special, local celebration of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. During the opening ceremony, he distributed certificates of appreciation to the observatories on Mauna Kea, and commented on some of the ways in which they have made the Big Island a "premier center of astronomy". He also thanked the observatories for their outreach to children, "our most precious resource". He reiterated the importance of science education immediately following the opening ceremony during his half-hour talk story session with local middle school students from Connections Public Charter School, Hilo Intermediate School, Kamehameha Schools, and St. Joseph School.

Dr. Kumiko S. Usuda, Subaru's Outreach Scientist, initiated the idea for the session while she served as Chair of the Galileo Block Party Committee. Dr. Usuda had observed the Mayor's good rapport with children in educational settings and thought that a talk story session with the Mayor would be a stimulating and fitting start to the day's activities in science and education, which were particularly designed with children, students, and inquisitive adults in mind. It was. The exchanges were lively, informative, and challenging.

The Mayor fielded general questions about science as well as specific ones relating to controversial regional political issues. In answering the query, "Did you ever like science?", the Mayor confessed that there were certain courses he didn't like. His favorite subject was history, because "it was about stories", and he was fascinated by the periodic table of the elements in chemistry. When he attended college at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, he really enjoyed math and the natural sciences, particularly oceanography. When one student asked him if he had to go to the mainland to study paleontology (the science that studies prehistoric life) since there are few prehistoric remains on the islands, the Mayor pointed out the advantages of developing a solid undergraduate education in anthropology at the University of Hawaii, which would lay the foundation for specialized graduate work elsewhere.

The tone became more serious with some of the other questions. "Why build telescopes on a sacred place?" The short answer was, "It is sacred science in a sacred place." Mayor Kenoi emphasized the connection between Mauna Kea's traditional meaning and the significance of contemporary science: "Mauna Kea is not just sacred; it's special and unique. We have to respect, conserve, and not harm our resources...These are some of the largest and best telescopes in the world…We have to work together; it’s the only way to preserve our island."

The Mayor had a strong response to a question about a hot regional issue: "Are there any other ways than furloughs to balance our budget?". He asserted that we have too few instructional days as it is and that it was wrong to take away 17 instructional days. "We shouldn't make kids pay for our budget problems; it takes away the opportunity to learn more, grow more, and be more."

After reflecting on the inquiry "Do you enjoy being a mayor in such a strong economic downturn?", he gave an enthusiastic, positive reply: "I love being mayor, especially in challenging times. I have an opportunity to work with people in the most special place in the world. In tough economic times, I look at the wonderful faces of our future leaders. I look at all of our advantages in the world. I am proud and honored to be the mayor in these times…Thank you is the best reward."

At the conclusion of the lively session, each student who participated received a Certificate of Achievement from the Galileo Block Party Committee and the Mayor, complete with a County of Hawai`i cover.

Link: "Galileo Block Party"

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