Rotary Club of Kona gifts $35K to Palamanui for science lab

  • The Rotary Club of Kona presented Hawaii Community College — Palamanui with a $35,000 check Thursday to fund equipment for a physics lab at the school. (Elizabeth Pitts/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — The science department at Hawaii Community College — Palamanui is about to take a giant leap forward with the creation of a physics lab on campus.

The Rotary Club of Kona presented the school with a $35,000 check Thursday to fully fund the equipment needed for the lab. The school had been lacking one since it began offering a natural science degree in 2017.

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HCC — Palamanui’s associate natural science degree caters to students looking to continue their higher education in astronomy, biology, computer science, engineering, pharmacy, marine science, pre-med, agriculture, animal science or nursing.

This year, the school has 18 students declared as natural science majors, and the need for a physics lab for the future scientists was apparent to Rotary Club of Kona president John Spicer.

“We financed that and now they can complete the lab and hopefully give kids who want to go into engineering or other degrees an opportunity,” Spicer said.

Spicer has a background in engineering, a career that started in science labs similar to the future one at HCC — Palamanui.

“It’s absolutely necessary for your physics and engineering students,” Spicer said. “The problem is the state finances the physical infrastructure but won’t finance the equipment. That has to come out of the school’s operating budget. So they didn’t have enough money for a physics lab. They have a chemistry lab, and a biology lab, but they couldn’t kick it up for a physics lab.”

The donation stems from the $62,500 the club received from PGA Tour Champions this year for helping find and organize volunteers for the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, held on the Big Island every January.

Rotary Club of Kona’s Tom Fine said the money the club receives every year “goes back to the community, every penny of it.”

The renovations of a classroom into a physics lab will be completed by next semester, and will have a seating capacity of 20 students.

“This gift will not only lead a pathway to graduation for our current students, but a clear pathway for out future students,” HCC — Palamanui interim director Kalei Haleamau-Kam said.

Haleamau-Kam noted students at HCC — Palamanui do not have to pay lab fees for their science classes, which is common at larger, four-year universities. That makes donations like the one from Rotary Club of Kona even more important to the school and its students.

One of the students who will benefit from the lab is Keoni Chillingworth. Chillingworth is attending the school in hopes of changing his career from firefighter to doctor. He said he was inspired to try and become an oncologist while watching his mother battle breast cancer.

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Chillingworth said he is nervous, but excited to begin physics classes next semester, and try out the school’s new lab.

“This gift is amazing,” Chillingworth said. “It’s huge and we appreciate it.”

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