In Partnership with the Southern Weekend

TMT provides educational opportunities, outreach programs for Hawaii Island keiki

Sponsored by the nonprofit partnership of the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is committed to not only being a good steward of Mauna Kea, but also a good neighbor in the community. It is part of Hawaii Island through a number of community events, activities and initiatives that have ranged from summer camp to outreach and relief efforts. TMT’s vision is also aligned with that of the Mauna Kea Observatories, which provides STEM education opportunities, workforce development, environmental protection and Hawaiian cultural advancement through community collaborations.

Virginia Aragon-Barnes works in environmental health and safety at TMT. She says the organization is involved in the community on a regular basis. “We’re in the classrooms teaching our keiki about STEM and astronomy. “As technology continues to advance, STEM-related jobs and careers is where we are headed globally,” she says. “So it’s important that we teach our keiki about STEM at an early age.”

Aragon-Barnes explains that TMT is also helping communities affected by the 2018 Kilauea eruption and devastating storms, which disrupted many lives in the Puna community. The eruption displaced friends and families from the places they called home, and for some, it was generations. TMT staff started making Keiki Stress Relief bags for the children living in the shelters. They called upon friends in the STEM community far and wide to send whatever educational activities, toys or giveaways they could to help relieve the stresses of living in the shelters.

After several visits with the families in the emergency shelters in Pahoa and Kea`au, TMT and the Gemini Observatory wanted to do more to help Hawaii Island’s keiki. With the help and generous donations from TMT and other organizations, Camp Laniakea was fully funded and available to children affected by the eruption. Thanks to TMT, Gemini Observatory and the Hawaii Science & Tech Museum, approximately 30 students in grades K-12 who resided in the Puna Shelter were able to experience enriching STEM educational experiences like drone flight training, stargazing, engineering challenges and astronomy activities.

The Gemini Observatory also offers many programs, and it’s a reflection of its many partnerships within the community. For 17 years, it’s been working with the Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation to bring its inflatable planetarium and StarLab to summer fun programs from Honokaa to Kau.

Alyssa Grace at the Gemini Observatory explains that it receives a lot of requests from schools and teachers to participate in classroom visits, science fairs, career fairs, and educational tours to the base facility in Hilo. The observatory works with others on Mauna Kea to provide annual events like AstroDay and Ellison Onizuka Day. Its biggest program is “Journey Through the Universe,” which just completed its 15th year. It brings together all of the Mauna Kea Observatories, outside astronomical organizations, the Department of Education and the island’s business community. In one week, it visits over 8,000 students in Hilo-Waiakea, Honokaa and Waimea.

“I think the exposure and experiences we give to our students will inspire them to be creative with their career choice,” Grace says. “Yes, we want them to come and work at the observatories. We have way more jobs than just astronomers, but a strong awareness of science and knowledge of what’s happening on this island will create better leaders in all fields of work.”

For more information:,, @TMTHawaii