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Janis Magin   |   Staff Writer
April 1, 2024
  • Harriet Natsuyama and bee keeper

A gift from UH alumna Dr. Harriet Natsuyama to the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo will give students there more opportunities to work with their professors on a variety of research projects, providing them with valuable experience to take into their future careers or graduate studies.

Natsuyama’s gift establishes the Alexa and Sean Light of Nature Research Award, with the intent to help UH Hilo undergraduate and graduate students in any major with their research related to conservation, sustainability, and the regeneration of terrestrial, oceanic, or atmospheric life and well-being.

Natsuyama named the fund for her two grandchildren and said the light in the fund’s name refers to the light of learning and knowledge.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Bruce Mathews said the funding from Natsuyama’s gift will help stimulate undergraduate students to engage in research projects that will help prepare them for employment or further graduate studies. The fund can cover such costs as supplies and materials as well as the costs for travel and presenting research at conferences.

“It will primarily fund research that’s using Hawaiʻi Island as a living laboratory,” said Mathews. “Harriet is a game changer. It gives us energy at the workplace that she wants to do good and make a difference for Hilo students.”

Natsuyama, who grew up in Honolulu and lives in Southern California, became interested in UH Hilo after getting involved in Chef Alan Wong’s Adopt-a-Beehive program about a dozen years ago. When she visited the campus, she met Mathews, who introduced her to some of the research being done at UH Hilo, such as energy cane research, growing sugar cane for biofuels or jet fuels.

She said that when she heard about the recent gift from UH Hilo Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin that created the Chancellor’s Fund for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity, she thought a fund to support undergraduate research for conservation and sustainability was a perfect way to help students with projects while encouraging others to give.

Her gift, she said, “can do a lot to assist the research of the faculty. I especially like to work with UH Hilo because I see it as a really important asset, a jewel in the UH system, especially in the natural sciences.”

Irwin has made a point of improving student access to experience the world-class research being done at UH Hilo, which give students a competitive advantage when they apply for jobs and graduate schools.

“It’s so important for undergraduate students to see the possibilities that research can create,” said Irwin. “We are grateful for Harriet’s forward-thinking gift that will have an impact on many students’ lives.”

This is the third fund Natsuyama has established at UH Hilo, following the Natsuyama-Otsubo Family Initiative Fund for research and the Ka `Ano `Ano Fund

Harriet Natsuyama received her bachelor's degree in mathematics and her master's degree in physics from UH Mānoa. She later received her doctor of science degree from Kyoto University Institute of Astrophysics, and spent her professional life in Southern California and as a visiting professor in Japanese universities. She was named a University of Hawai'i Distinguished Alumna in 1991.

If you would like to learn how you can support UH students and programs like this, please contact us at 808-956-8700 or send us a message.