These Hawaii students were challenged to make a difference. Here’s how they stepped up

Waiakea High School in Hilo has already staked its claim to fame in the STEM space ― and now it’s going after more.
Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 2:24 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 24, 2023 at 4:44 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Waiakea High School in Hilo has already staked its claim to fame in the STEM space ― and now it’s going after more.

The school’s STEM team was named Hawaii’s winner in the annual Samsung Solve for Tomorrow STEM competition.

“It’s just surprising how a simple assignment that we created in December could just be this big thing,” senior Maya Polloi said.

The assignment was to choose a problem affecting their community and demonstrate how science, technology, engineering, and math can help to address it.

The Waiakea kids selected coral bleaching, and now they are working on making an environmentally safe sunscreen.

“We’re using sugarcane and squalene, which is an extract from the sugarcane, to make that. And we’re using it as a UV protectant. It’s also got skincare benefits. So we’re using squalene as the ingredient in our sunscreen,” senior Alexander Tuson said.

Under the leadership of teacher Whitney Aragaki, Waiakea High has entered just about every year since Samsung started the Solve for Tomorrow contest for middle and high schools nationwide 13 years ago.

“For the past few years we have been fortunate to be named a state finalist,” she said.

“Since the pandemic we stopped participating because it got a little bit heavy. Now that we’re back it’s really exciting to be named the state winner.”

For capturing first place, Samsung awarded the school $12,000 worth of technology and supplies, including the equipment students used to make a video that explains the problem and how they’re tackling a solution.

And there are more prizes on the line.

“We have prizes for every stage of the competition. It’s gets higher as you go further in the competition with $100,000 of Samsung technology and classroom supplies for the national winners,” said Ann Woo, of Samsung Electronics America.

From among the 50 state winners, Samsung will select three national winners in May.

Judges will base their decisions on the information provided in the videos each school produced.

Waiakea’s kids are happy they listened to their teacher.

“We were a little hesitant at first, but she pushed us to strive for a better tomorrow,” Polloi said

“I don’t feel as nervous as more as just excited,” Tuson said.

The team is made up of 20 juniors and seniors. They were also working on other sustainable solutions before they settled on the sugarcane/sunscreen project.

“I like these kinds of projects because it mimics what they will do in the real world,” Aragaki said.