Gemini Observatory Press Releases

FOR RELEASE: January 28, 2003

Media Contact:

Peter Michaud
Gemini Observatory, Hilo, Hawai`i
Phone: 808/974-2510, Cell: 808/987-5876

Gemini Announces Selection of Six "StarTeachers"

StarTeachers Exchange Program

Photographs and biographies are available at:

En Español - Versión adaptada en Chile

Today, in a live videoconference connecting Hawai`i with Chile, the six teachers selected to participate in the Gemini Observatory StarTeachers Exchange Program were officially announced.

During the event, the 3 teachers from each location met and shared some of their ideas for the exchange using the same advanced high-speed internet videoconferencing technology that they will use to present lessons to their students back home during the exchange. The Hawai`i teachers are scheduled to visit their colleagues in Chile for two weeks in March and the Chilean teachers will make a reciprocal visit to Hawai`i in October 2003.

The three Big Island StarTeachers selected are Kristen Luning, Chairperson of the Math Department at Keaau High School; Alicia Hui, a fifth grade teacher at Haili Christian School; and Christine Copes, a math and Resource Teacher at Waiakea Elementary School. The three Chilean teachers are Carmen Luz Briones, Viviana Calderon and Jenny Opazo. (See more complete biographies at:

"This is a perfect example of what we had envisioned many years ago when we first established the Sister City relationship between Hilo and La Serena Chile," said Big Island (4th District) Representative Helene Hale. "By sharing Gemini's resources and technology with our teachers and students, this program demonstrates how we can all work together as a community to improve our educational system and provide unique educational opportunities that would otherwise not be available." Representative Hale played a critical role in establishing the sister city program in the mid 90's along with former Big Island resident Anamaria Kehoni`ala Maraboli-Smith who now lives in Chile.

Mrs Maraboli-Smith participated in the event from Chile and suggested that the theme of the program be summarized with Queen Kapiolani's motto: "Kulia i ka nu`u" which means "strive for the heights".

The StarTeachers Exchange is a unique educational program designed to utilize Gemini's state-of-the-art Internet videoconferencing capabilities as an educational "laboratory." Combined with a two-week visit/exchange, the program provides an innovative venue for the teaching of science and cross-cultural exchanges between the teachers and students of Hawai`i and Chile.

"This is a first for us," said Dr. Matt Mountain, Director of the Gemini Observatory. "With this program, we want to make our resources available to help local educators in our host communities while expanding our outreach efforts in ways that will inspire our youth to shoot for the stars!"

The teachers will make reciprocal visits to each city, and will be given the opportunity to experience the actual implementation of Gemini's astronomical research programs while sharing insights on each other's culture and educational systems. The teachers will then present real-time, audio-visual classes to their home students via Gemini's high-speed Internet technologies.

The three veteran Hilo teachers have together accumulated more than 50 years' teaching experience in Hawai`i schools.

Christine Copes is a teacher at Waiakea Elementary School. She teaches math for the gifted and talented for third, fourth and fifth graders and is a Resource Teacher at Waiakea Elementary School, serving as the school's Technology Coordinator and specializing in computer literacy.

"I feel like a pioneer in a way," says Ms. Copes. "I feel like, we are going to be ambassadors for Hawai`i, for our schools and for Gemini. Education is the key. I'm looking forward to telling the students in Chile about our islands, how unique they are, and the specialness of Mauna Kea."

Alicia Hui teaches fifth grade at Haili Christian School. "One of the things I plan on doing when we go to Chile is to take my ukulele with me," Ms. Hui says. "I've found it a great ice breaker, and one of the best tools I can use to share my Hawaiian culture.

"I really think that through this program we'll get a real opportunity to learn from each other - not only about classrooms, but about each others' cultures. I'm very excited about the StarTeachers program."

Kristen Luning, who oversees the Math Department at Keaau High School, says Gemini's StarTeachers Exchange Program is just one of several Gemini educational Outreach programs she's participated in over the past few years.

"StarTeachers is such a great experience for Hawai`i teachers and students to expand their awareness of what's happening up there on Mauna Kea while being exposed to other cultures."

In a gesture of aloha, the Big Island teachers are planning on having their classes make lei to be presented to the children in the Chilean exchange classes.

The three Chilean teachers are also excited about having the opportunity to visit Hawai`i schools.

A veteran of 23 years in La Serena schools, Carmen Luz Briones is an elementary teacher with a major in sciences.

"What I want from this is to be able to let my students experience Hawai`i through my eyes," she says. "I want them to participate in this experience, to see what I am seeing. That's why I am exited about the Gemini Internet technology we will be using. We'll be able to truly share."

An elementary teacher with 30 years' experience, Viviana Calderon says she's looking forward to participating in the program "because I do things with great commitment and I love the children. I want to show them that although our geographical boundaries may be different, we all live under the same sky."

Jenny Opazo is a preschool teacher who has taught her entire career in La Serena. "This is a major program for all of us," Ms. Opazo said.

"I am trying to develop a plan which will involve myself and our visiting Hawai`i teachers with all our teachers in our school, and even teachers in surrounding schools.

"I think this would give the visiting teachers a broader experience of our local educational system. And also, it would allow my colleagues, who are working so hard to help make this program a success, to share their personal educational experiences with our Hawai`i visitors."

Also participating in the announcement event was Dr. Malcolm Smith, Director of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO*).

"The StarTeachers are well named - this program is clearly getting off to a very good start," said Dr. Smith from Chile.

"The people chosen for this exchange are a good match to the outstanding opportunity being provided. They will each learn from each other and from their surroundings throughout this experience - rest assured that these wonderfully creative teachers from Chile and Hawai`i are fully up to the task of conveying the thrill and content of this program to their pupils.

"These teachers are, of course, fortunate to have this opportunity to expand their own horizons and exchange ideas so directly with colleagues from another culture - but the children for whom this program is designed are the real winners - having such special, now even more motivated people leading their classes.

"It is always such a pleasure to bring creative people from La Serena and the Big Island together to share their special cultures and beautiful surroundings. After this, we must reach out to the children - and help motivate them to look after their threatened natural and cultural heritage - the most spectacular starlit skies known to humankind, the skies over Hawai`i in the North, and Chile in the South."

Mrs. Maraboli-Smith, liason for the sister-cities La Serena - County of Hawai`i, who, along with her husband, Dr. Smith are former residents of the Big Island, added "A few years ago Hokule`a left Hilo for Rapa Nui, Chile. It was a voyage of learning, of culture and education. Of people meeting people. This time its teachers. Once again it's a voyage of learning, of culture and education - of people meeting people - and how these StarTeachers can enrich the children passing the knowledge to them. "What better way to strengthen our Sister City relationship than with an exchange in education".

*CTIO is a part of the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) which has provided U.S. astronomers access to the southern sky for four decades and has partnered with Gemini on several local Chilean outreach initiatives. Gemini and NOAO are both managed for the National Science Foundation by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA).

For more information, please see the related press releases, "Celestial Cybernetics" and "StarTeachers Exchange Program".

The Gemini Observatory is an international collaboration that has built two identical 8-meter telescopes. The Frederick C. Gillett Gemini Telescope is located on Mauna Kea, Hawai‘i (Gemini North) and the Gemini South telescope is located on Cerro Pachón in central Chile (Gemini South), and hence provide full coverage of both hemispheres of the sky. Both telescopes incorporate new technologies that allow large, relatively thin mirrors under active control to collect and focus both optical and infrared radiation from space.

The Gemini Observatory provides the astronomical communities in each partner country with state-of-the-art astronomical facilities that allocate observing time in proportion to each country's contribution. In addition to financial support, each country also contributes significant scientific and technical resources. The national research agencies that form the Gemini partnership include: the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), the Canadian National Research Council (NRC), the Chilean Comisión Nacional de Investigación Cientifica y Tecnológica (CONICYT), the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Argentinean Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET) and the Brazilian Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq). The Observatory is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the NSF. The NSF also serves as the executive agency for the international partnership.