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About the NSF ATE grant project

Dr. Robert Richmond (NSF ATE grant project's PI) teaches a group of snorkelers about the coral reef while standing in the water surrounded by students and coral reef.The ATE program, Partnership for Advanced Marine and Environmental Science Training for Pacific Islanders, is designed to improve technological education at the undergraduate and secondary school levels through the community colleges of the Pacific Islands by supporting regionally relevant curriculum development, the professional development of community college faculty and secondary school teachers, internships and field experiences for faculty, teachers, and students, and by strengthening the scientific infrastructure of the participating institutions. The activities include workshops that provide both training and the necessary tools to perform relevant programs at regional two-year colleges and minority-serving universities, research experiences and collaborations, secondary school teacher and student support, and will build on existing programs (NSF-Undergraduate Mentoring in Environmental Biology-UMEB, DOI-Marine Resources Pacific Consortium-MAREPAC, NOAA-Coral Reef Initiative) to address the scientific and technical needs of the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands: American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.

Clown fish swims inside a sea anemone underwater in Palau.The Pacific Islands contain highly diverse and unique coral reef and terrestrial ecosystems that are under elevated levels of stress and degradation due to development pressures, the effects of over-fishing, and coastal pollution from sedimentation and the increased use of agrochemicals. The future of the Islands and their populations depends on the technical skills and knowledge available to local resource managers, policy makers and stakeholders. An effective means of providing critical access to accurate and adequate information, in a culturally appropriate manner, is to strengthen the capacity of the local institutions of higher education: American Samoa Community College, the College of Micronesia—FSM, the College of the Marshall Islands, Northern Marianas College, and Palau Community College. Input from local agencies, businesses and stakeholders, will identify the skills needed by the community college graduates to fill positions within the government and private sector.

Research boat and snorkelers in PalauThis program is intended to produce a group of culturally-connected Pacific Islanders specifically trained to serve their home islands as informed leaders in natural resource assessment, protection and restoration. Further, they will be trained and positioned to provide information to the broader international community on the special problems experienced in island nations relative to topics such as resource sustainability, protection of biodiversity, pollution control and linkages between environmental and human health. This program is centered in the islands and their institutions, with a specific goal of attracting future generations of under-represented minorities into the sciences and technology fields.

Meet the Project Staff and Faculty

Project Staff:

Profile photo of Dr. Robert Richmond, PI of the NSF ATE grant project & Director of UH's Kewalo Marine LaboratoryDr. Robert Richmond, Research Professor and Director, Kewalo Marine Laboratory, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa; P.I.; Has served as the P.I. for 2 previous NSF-ATE grants and as Co-PI for NSF’s Undergraduate in Mentoring Environmental Biology (UMEB) and Undergraduate Research Mentoring (URM) programs. Dr. Richmond is responsible for overall project oversight, grant accountability, scientifically responsible conduct, and scientific/technical support for the program. His lab and University provide additional administrative and technical support.

Dr. Patrick Telle, co-PI of the NSF ATE grant & President of PCCDr. Patrick Tellei, President, Palau Community College, Co-PI; Dr. Tellei is the senior college President in the region. He is responsible for matters that require institutional commitments from the college administrations, oversight of articulation agreements and on compliance with WASC standards. Dr. Tellei has served as the Co-PI on two prior NSF-ATE grants, and has worked collaboratively with Dr. Richmond for over 14 years. He also provides culturally important guidance as a senior member of the management team.

Mrs. Vernice Yuzi, co-PI of the NSF ATE grant project & science faculty at PCCVernice Yuji, M.A., is an Associate Professor of Science at the Palau Community College on Palau. She has over 18 years experience teaching science courses in the Environmental/Marine Science program. She has been involved with the NSF ATE grant program since 2006 and served as a Co-PI in 2009. She works on curriculum development and program evaluation.

Educational Specialist profile photoLauren Wetzell, M.S., serves as the grant’s Education Specialist and Project Evaluator. She has over 10 years work experience in the Pacific region helping island residents conserve their natural resources, understand how to protect these resources, and foster sustainability. Ms. Wetzell has strong familiarity with both the geographic and cultural landscapes of the Pacific Islands, through serving in education (ASCC) and disaster risk and reduction management roles. She provides direct assistance to the lead PI, in managing the ATE program and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at UH.

Project Faculty:




Marine Science Instructor, Brian Lynch, is pictured holding a fish with his young daughter.Brian Lynch has spent the last 16 years teaching Marine and Environmental Sciences at the College of Micronesia (COM-FSM) where students have the opportunity to earn an AS Degree in Marine Science. In addition, he has broad research interests and has found it very rewarding to collaborate with a number of biologists across a wide spectrum of island research projects, especially when the opportunity exists to involve COM-FSM students with hands on, field research.





Community Colleges

The five participating community colleges cover a geographical area that includes islands north and south of the equator, on both sides of the international dateline, covering an 8,000 km expanse of ocean, representing students with at least 8 different native languages.

American Samoa Community College (ASCC)

ASCC logoFounded in 1970 is a post-secondary institution located on Tutuilla Island, 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. ASCC offers Associate of Science in Marine Science degree and a Marine Option Program which allows students to receive credit and a certificate of proficiency for work on a marine based project. A highlight of the Marine Science program is the Quantitative Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques (QUEST) course which gives students the skills to formulate their own research question, collect and analyze data and draw conclusions.

College of the Marshall Islands (CMI)

CMI logoBecame an independent post secondary educational institution in 1993 and resides on the main island of Majuro. Students have the option to enroll in a new Certificate of Completion in Marine Sciences along with their Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts degree. The Certificate of Completion in Marine Science is a precursor to an Associate of Sciences in Marine Science degree that is currently being developed at CMI.

College of Micronesia, Federated States of Micronesia (COM-FSM)

COM-FSM logoThe College of Micronesia-FSM (COM-FSM) is a accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). The Associates of Marine Science degree is the only STEM degree offered at our college. COM-FSM is a multi-campus institution consisting of 6 campuses, with the National Campus located in Palikir. The campus in Pohnpei offers most of the degree programs and is the only campus that regularly graduates students and transfers them into Bachelors level programs elsewhere. The Marine Science program is run by two faculty members, one of which is a former COM-FSM student. Current marine science enrollment numbers run between 40-50 students with more females than male students.

Being a small, remote community college in the Pacific, COM-FSM resources are limited. However, they have abundant access to beautiful and diverse marine ecosystems which provide a natural marine laboratory for their students. Prior NSF funds are important in enhancing practical laboratory experiences for students. Student research and internship opportunities have proven to be the greatest asset to the marine science program, providing students valuable work experiences while applying classroom learning to real world and community challenges.

Northern Marianas College (NMC)

Logo for NMCLocated on the island of Saipan and since its inception in 1983 has been dedicated to meeting the region’s higher educational and vocational training needs. A variety of degrees, including Bachelors and Associates, are offered as well as certificates and training programs. Students can earn Associate of Science degree with a focus in environmental and/or marine science.

Palau Community College (PCC)

PCC logo PalauA two-year post-secondary higher learning institution located in the Republic of Palau. Students can earn a variety of Associate degrees in Arts, Science, Applied Science and Technical Studies as well as enroll in environmental/marine science or STEM disciplines academic programs.

Intellectual Merit

ASCC marine science students sail onboard the traditional aw'a "Hokulea"

This program will produce a group of culturally connected Pacific Islanders trained with technological skills to serve their home islands in natural resource assessment, management and protection, climate change impact assessment, monitoring and adaptation strategy development, pollution control and broader sustainability policy. Further, the participating students will be trained and positioned to provide valuable data and information to the broader U.S. and international communities on the special problems experienced in island nations relative to topics such as climate change, resource sustainability, food security, protection of biodiversity, pollution abatement and linkages between environmental and human health.  These islands serve as excellent natural laboratories for both basic and applied research and provide a scale conducive to hypothesis testing and evaluating science-based solutions to the above problems.

The Islands also have much to offer in terms of their traditional approaches, from effective practices in traditional fisheries management to multigenerational sustainability planning.  Their community-based approaches to governance provide insight into the human dimension of resource use in coupled natural-human systems.  However, the future of the Pacific Islands region depends on the integration of modern technologies with traditional knowledge. This ATE program will be centered in the islands and their institutions, with a goal of training future generations of under-represented minorities in the sciences and technology fields and placing them in STEM positions and careers in the region and elsewhere that will support sound sustainability practices and policies.

Broader Impacts

PCC marine science student earns certificate for her achievementsThe targeted islands and institutions have depended on the mainland U.S. or foreign countries for trained scientists and technicians to fill research, STEM, management and policy-oriented positions.  Regional environmental and technically related efforts have often failed due to a lack of continuity from those hired on short-term contracts and because of limited community integration and engagement. The regional institutions and their faculties are now able to provide advanced technical training and support for programs and policies aimed at reversing declines in natural resource quality and quantity on their islands. The support of cohorts of faculty and students will also serve to increase the success rate of Pacific Islanders in the STEM disciplines, which has traditionally been low, providing role models for other motivated individuals. Notably, the proportion of women in the programs supported by the past and present ATE grants has increased to the point that they now outnumber males almost 2:1.  This is not totally surprising based on elements of culture and the matrilineal nature of the societies e.g. in Palau.  What is abundantly clear is past successes have provided a solid foundation for future program growth, improvements and positive outcomes.  The hands-on, experiential elements of the programs will continue to grow local institutional capacity to meet the mounting economic, social, public health and environmental sustainability challenges faced in the region, and spur additional investments in the regional educational infrastructure by the local governments, insuring effort sustainability beyond the project.  Many of our past program graduates are now in key technical, educational, research and policy positions and careers throughout the region, and are having positive and measurable impacts.

Goals & Objectives for NSF ATE grant years 2020-2023

PCC marine science student solders wires on a circuit board.The ATE program differs from the NSF-UMEB, COSEE, URM and REU programs by placing the resources and activities directly into the regional community colleges, strengthening the programs in their home islands, agencies and institutions. This direct investment provides a great economy-of-scale, as more islanders can be exposed to research activities and technology training for lower costs. High school and middle school students (several hundred so far), as well as community stakeholders are also direct and indirect beneficiaries of the ATE program. While entry into technical professions and positions following completion of an associates degree is a clearly identified goal, we also need to provide interested and qualified students with the opportunity to move directly into 4-year Bachelors’ degree paths and on to post-graduate education so they may eventually fill upper level technical, professional and policy positions.

Specific goals for the NSF ATE project 2020-2023 year are to:

  1. Faculty receive training and educational/research support on former ATE and integrate ATE tools and training in their courses (lab and field work) and student research. Faculty also use this knowledge to enhance student core competencies in application of ATE addressing climate change, fisheries and sustainability science.
  2. Equip laboratories with supplies to ensure students are competent in the scientific method and carrying out scientific experiments.
  3. Faculty and select students receive direct ROV training and educational resources in partnership with Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center. Faculty and students learn problem solving, technology design and fabrication, and creativity with respect to environmental issues in ROV applications.
  4. Faculty help students build leadership skills and provide professional growth opportunities. Students produce a c.v. and apply for scholarships, internships and other academic enrichment opportunities. Students present research at village leadership, scientific and/or community venues.
  5. Faculty and students carryout outreach in their local middle and high schools to build and retain interest in STEM.
  6. Faculty and NSF ATE staff disseminate program achievements within their communities, regional, and/or national events.
Results from Prior NSF ATE Support

ASCC marine science student wearing scuba underwater

Partnership for Advanced Marine and Environmental Science Training for Pacific Islanders,” R.H. Richmond, P. Tellei, and V. Yuji (#1601119, 5/16 – 4/20). This NSF Advanced Technological Education program has demonstrated success at improving scientific and technological education at the regional community colleges and preparing Pacific Island students, a highly underrepresented minority group, for careers and advanced education in STEM. This grant focused on educating students with technological tools and skills to assess and monitor climate change impacts on their home islands and associated coral reef ecosystems. The geographic distribution of the five colleges, north and south of the equator and east and west of the dateline, provided a valuable consortium of essential efforts in concurrent island ecosystem data collection of economic, cultural and ecological value.

Faculty attending the Footlocker training workshop prepare to take water samples (Palau)During this present grant, faculty and students from each college attended three technical workshops and received a “footlocker” of resources including curricula, training materials and new technical tools, to take back to their home institutions. The colleges used these assets to enrich their own programs, doubling and, in some, tripling the number of students in their STEM classes. Drones and virtual reality goggles were very engaging tools used in ASCC and PCC outreach events to prime the pipeline with K-12 students, resulting in several hundred developing interests in STEM. Follow-up assessments regarding the content delivery and effectiveness were sent to the participating faculty. All responded positively that the investments are strengthening their programs and preparing their students for employment in technical fields.

CMI marine science students look at data collected from a YSI sonde.The first (of 3) NSF ATE regional grant awards in 2005 combined advanced technology with project-based learning to recruit and retain students into STEM. This successful approach used experiential learning and integrated it with real-life issues based in island conservation and natural resource management. Since then, over 50 different partnerships have been developed throughout the Pacific Islands, providing direct mentoring for nearly 500 students. Over 95% of these students graduated from their community colleges. In this grant project year, 90% of all graduates from the 2-year programs continued to pursue education at the university level. All students strongly agreed that the NSF ATE program has been impactful in learning Marine and Environmental Sciences, using modern technologies and approaches, and has broadened their understanding of natural resource sustainability and local conservation issues. Over half of these students indicated they were likely to pursue an advanced degree (MS or PhD) from a university in Marine/Environmental Science. Universities where our graduates have continued include UH Hilo, the University of Guam, Chaminade University (Hawaii), Seattle University, the University of Iowa and the University of California at Berkeley. Many of these students have expressed their interest in returning to their home islands for employment in environmental management at local and regional agencies, NGO’s and the private sector.  Many of our interns are hired directly by their mentoring institutions/agencies and these numbers increase each year.

CMI students and their instructor at ASLO conferenceIn the past four years, over 2,000 Pacific Island students (including college STEM majors, non-majors, and K-12 students) have directly benefitted from this program, which provided over 100 internships with partnering organizations, and supported close to 50 student graduates in their pursuit of advanced academic degrees.  Approximately 150 students have presented their research to their local communities, at college symposia, and/or national/international scientific conferences, building leadership skills and growing their professional networks. 

PCC marine science students on traditional canoes The original intent of the program was to train local, culturally-connected students to fill key STEM positions within their islands, in lieu of ex-patriots hired on short-term contracts who fulfill short-term needs, but leave little behind in terms of local and regional capacity.  Due to the impacts of climate change on these islands, particularly sea level rise affecting the low-lying atolls (resulting in seawater intrusion into limited aquifers, and mass coral bleaching events resulting in the loss of fisheries resources), the program is now including a goal of training Pacific Islanders for gainful employment in STEM disciplines as they become environmental refugees forced to leave their island homes and live in exile.  This is already occurring. Rather than being restricted to minimum wage jobs in the U.S. and elsewhere, we need to produce cohorts of individuals that can serve critical roles as anchors to their island communities in transition, and that are well-integrated into their new communities as skilled contributors.  

CMI marine science students look at a touch tank.An effective and informative evaluation program is an essential element to our efforts.  The Educational Specialist on the grant completed 15 graduate credits at UH’s College of Education in courses that strengthened her ability to develop and improve effective place-based and experiential learning curricula in STEM, and learn innovative tools and apps to enhance technological education and program evaluation. This professional training has enhanced the program evaluation to account for cultural and ESL barriers. This is a particular area of need as our students represent 8 different and distinct Pacific Island cultures and associated languages.  She has produced training manuals, iBooks and videos to support technological skill development for faculty and this unique group of students, and having taught at one of the regional community colleges previously, she can relate to the challenges, is appreciated and respected by her peers, the island students and the college administrators as someone to be trusted, which is essential to program success.


Marine science student

ASCC, American Samoa (current)

  • American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency
  • Department of Commerce Coastal Zone Management Program
  • Department of Marine & Wildlife
  • Governor’s Coral Reef Advisory Group
  • National Park Service of American Samoa
  • NOAA Fagatelebay National Marine Sanctuary

CMI, Marshall Islands (current)

  • CMI Land Grant Program
  • Conservation Society
  • Marshall Islands Environmental Protection Agency
  • Ministry of Marine Resources Authority
  • Pacific Areas Network

COM-FSM, Pohnpei (current)

  • COM-LandGrant
  • Kosrae Conservation and Safety Organization
  • Kosrae State Climate Change Task Force
  • Micronesian Conservation Trust
  • Pohnpei State Office of Fisheries and Aquaculture

NMC, Saipan (current)

  • Division of Coastal Resources Management, Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality
  • Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance

PCC, Palau (current)

  • Belau National Museum
  • Bureau of Marine Resource
  • Coral Reef Research Foundation
  • Environmental Health
  • Environmental Quality Protection Board
  • Koror State Government’s Conservation & Law Enforcement
  • Palau International Coral Reef Center

United States, Organizations (current)

  • Amec Wheeler, CA (Mr. Jameson Newton)
  • Marine Option Program, UH, Mr. Jeff Kuwabara
  • YSI SonTek and Xylem, CA

United States, Organizations (former)

  • NSF ATE PathTech, University of South Florida (2018-2019)
  • NSF REU program at UH Manoa (2019)
  • SEA Semester, MA (2018-2019)
  • US Fish & Wildlife Services, HI (2018-2019)
  • Conservation International, HI (2015)
  • Google Earth (2015)
  • NOAA Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, HI (2014)
  • NSF – Under Representatives Minorities, UH Manoa (2008-2014)
  • USGS, Santa Cruz, CA, Dr. Bruce Jaffe (2009)

International (former)

  • SPREP, Samoa (2017-2018)
  • Polynesian Voyaging Society, American Samoa (2009-2016)
  • Native American Pacific Islander Research, Costa Rica (2014)

Academia (current)

  • San Diego State University, CA
  • Stanford University, CA, Dr. Robert Dunbar

Academia (former)

  • Arizona State University, AZ (2018-2019)
  • James Cook University, Australia (2018-2019)
  • University of Michigan, MI Dr. Thomas Duda (2009)
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