Waipahu High School gets new space observatory for early college program

The state Department of Education this week opened a new space observatory at Waipahu High School.

Students enrolled in a college-level astronomy course can use a 17-inch telescope located on the school campus. The telescope is housed in a 12.5-foot dome atop one of the school buildings.

The observatory allows students to remotely observe and capture color and infrared images.

Waipahu High students can receive high school and college credits through the school First college program. The school has partnered with Leeward Community College and the University of Hawaii since 2012.

The DOE’s Early College program began at Waipahu High in 2012, with financial assistance from the McInerny Foundation. Since its inception, the program has grown to offer more than 80 college-level courses at Waipahu High School and has spread to several other public high schools.

One of the first courses offered under the program is Astronomy 295. Students enrolled in this course will be able to use the new observatory to further their education through research.

“In the spring of 2021, we had six students from Waipahu High School and six students from Odyssey from Colorado Springs who collaborated on research involving binary systems – or double stars,” said Mark Silliman, director of the university program of Waipahu High.

“It really demonstrated the project that students from all over the world can solve real-life problems together,” Silliman added.

Silliman told HPR that the observatory not only provides research opportunities for students, but it also gives them the resources to pursue potential careers.

“It’s extremely important,” he said. “It helps to generate and excite interest in STEM and STEM-related careers by promoting research in astronomy. The creation of new knowledge, for example.”

Waipahu High School students have been recognized by the scientific and astronomical community.

Over the past decade, three student-authored publications have been featured in the Journal of Double Star Observations.

More recently, four Waipahu students were honored for their research and granted access to technology at the Maunakea Observatories.

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