Students present their thought-provoking research findings
She suspected that she couldn’t be the only one feeling isolated and alone. With COVID cases spiking during her freshman year, Iris Hirata sheltered in place in her dorm room with her family support 5,000 miles away.
“I usually like being alone, but that was too much—even for me,” Hirata recalls. “It was depressing and I felt I had no one to talk to.”
As pandemic numbers started to decrease, and a semblance of normalcy emerged, Hirata never forgot those earlier times. “Biologically, I knew about COVID’s impact on the lungs,” Hirata says. “But I told Dr. Darren Iwamoto, we didn’t know the impact that COVID had on the mental health of individuals.”
It turned out to be a lot.
In an earlier research project she worked on with psychology professor Tracy Trevorrow, Ph.D., Hirata studied the effects of COVID on sleep quality. They learned that during the nascent stages of the pandemic, people tended to be more on their phones, which would disturb their sleep patterns and quality of sleep.
“I was really big on healthcare at the time, which is what led me to do a research project on the impact of COVID on mental health,” says the biology major, who presented her findings during the 21st annual Na Liko Na’auao Symposium on April 14.
Pointing to a chart with spikes of blue and red lines, Hirata explains that the graph indicates the “bounce back” or the resiliency rate of the 200 students surveyed during her research.
“The epidemic has had a significant impact on university students’ mental health, including things like stress, anxiety, depression, and a lack of behavioral and emotional control,” Hirata concludes in her findings. “The findings support the literature that resilience is a key factor in influencing mental health and overall wellness.”
According to Amber Noguchi, Ph.D., Undergraduate Research and Pre-Professional Programs director, undergraduate and graduate research experience can look like a number of things. It can range from formal and clinical studies to data analysis, and creative works and beyond. On the occasion of this year’s Na Liko Na’auao Symposium, 25 student presenters covered a broad spectrum of issues and questions, from Hirata’s “How does COVID-19 Impact the Mental Health of Individuals?” to “Eat Healthy, Live Strong: Understanding Eating Behaviors of NHPI on Oahu” and “Sports Analytics: What Factors Determine a Winning Team?” and “Decolonizing Hawaii’s Diet.”
“All of these presentations stem from research projects that have been collaborations between the student researchers and their faculty mentors,” Noguchi explains. “This undergraduate conference celebrates student scholars from across all academic disciplines.”
In her research project with Dr. Guanlin Gao, “Eat Healthy, Live Strong: Understanding Eating Behaviors of NHPI on Oahu,” Autumn Fairall, ’23, examined the barriers to eating a healthy diet. “I started working with Dr. Gao as a research assistant in the Spring of 2022,” says Fairall, who will earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in May. “Initially, the project we worked on focused on the landscape of economic and personal finance in Hawaii. However, after talking with Dr. Gao and discussing personal interests in wellness and past, informal research connected to diet, the research focus altered.”
During the conclusion of the Symposium, President Dr. Lynn Babington, defined a scholar as “A person with a desire to pursue and learn new things; a person on a quest for knowledge and a dedication to learning.” By not focusing on one academic discipline, Na Liko Na’auao gives all student scholars an opportunity to present their work in a formal setting, and receive feedback from both faculty and other scholars within their field.
Every year, after all the student scholars have presented their work, the Symposium concludes with a presentation of two special awards. Given annually, The President Sue Wesselkamper Award acknowledges a student who has demonstrated extensive community and university service. In order to qualify for the prize, a student must have a minimum 3.5 GPA, show scholarship beyond classroom requirements by undertaking their own independent research or study, and must have presented their work both on and off campus.
Kawailani Luat is this year’s recipient of the President Sue Wesselkamper Award. A senior, majoring in Data Science, Analytics and Visualization and minoring in Forensic Science, Luat consistently excels in her coursework and has taken on leadership roles through her extracurricular and volunteer services.
“To be recognized with this award validates all the hard work I’ve done to get here,” Luat said. “I finish my senior year with this last achievement, so I am beyond ecstatic.”
“Kawailani is very active within our Chaminade community, including the Animal Advocacy Club, I am a Scientist, and has helped at every Preview and Admitted Students Day,” Babington says. “She also served as a student panelist for the Women in Data Science Hawaiʻi program and volunteers at Palama Settlement, a non-profit community-based social service agency working in the Kalihi and Palama neighborhoods.”
Honoring the close student-faculty relationships formed at Chaminade, the President Mackey Award is presented to an outstanding faculty mentor, nominated by a student participating at the conference. This year’s recipient is Dr. Rylan Chong, nominated by LaVelle White.
“He personally helps students step outside themselves to try things that were not thought possible,” wrote White in his nomination letter. “He encourages and pushes students to go for internships and research programs like SPICE. He stays after class to help students answer questions, and he has a way of speaking that demystifies the whole process, giving students the confidence to essentially go for the gold.”