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Far-Sighted Philanthropy: The Minnesota Connection

by Margaret Shiba on May 1st, 2017

So far this spring more than 500 Big Island schoolchildren have benefited from free field trip transportation to ‘Imiloa, thanks to generous philanthropy from an unusual source—a small group of alumni from Carleton College in Minnesota!


A typical day at ‘Imiloa sees a wide variety of visitors coming through the door…businesspeople meeting over breakfast at Sky Garden, tour groups stopping en route to Volcano National Park, K-12 students piling off schoolbuses for field trips, community members checking in for an event in Moanahōkū Hall. December 2, 2016 began as one such ordinary day, but by the time it was over, an inspiration had struck and within a month, a total of $5,900 had been raised to support 2017 field trips to ‘Imiloa by Big Island schools.


This impromptu fundraising campaign was made possible by 24 members of a Carleton College Alumni Study Tour who visited ‘Imiloa as part of a customized 8-day program on Maui and the Big Island, “Hawai‘i World-Class Observatories & Natural Wonders.” When severe winter weather forced the cancellation of the group’s planned site visits to telescopes on both Haleakala and Maunakea, the group’s stop at ‘Imiloa took on added significance, introducing the visitors to the impressive history and accomplishments of astronomy in Hawai‘i, along with the parallel story of early Polynesians who navigated their way across the Pacific using the light of the same stars.


As it happened, the Carlton alumni happened to be touring the ‘Imiloa Exhibit Hall at the exact same time as a group of 134 energetic fourth graders from Kea‘au Elementary School. The children’s obvious excitement over the astronomy and navigation content won the hearts of the mainland visitors, and when they learned about ‘Imiloa’s “Adopt a Visit” fundraising program, two of the participants, Ester Gubbrud and Charlie Ross, generously offered to match donations from everyone in the group. As Ester later commented, “We suggested the group donation as a ‘crazy idea,’ and everyone immediately jumped on board. It just grew really quickly. Between matching donations and our corporate employee gift matching programs, every $1 donated turned into $4 for ‘Imiloa!”

Another Carlton alumna, Deborah Gavrin Frangquist, commented how much she appreciated having an opportunity to walk alongside the model of the Hōkūalaka‘i voyaging canoe and get a sense of life on board, “but what truly delighted me,” she said,” was the presence of the children busily exploring, investigating, calling each other’s attention to what they were learning. At one point, a small group of students rushed to an exhibit near where I was standing, and a chaperone apologized for their possibly blocking my view. I told her that I enjoyed seeing their enthusiasm and that the center really exists for them. She said, “But you paid to get in,” and I replied, ‘On their behalf.’ It’s truly an honor to join with other Carls in making it possible for more students to visit and learn at ‘Imiloa.”


Dr. Joel Weisberg, Carleton College Professor of Physics and Astronomy and one of the tour’s two academic leaders, stated that Gubbrud and Ross’s effort is emblematic of the caring nature of Carleton alumni and students that has inspired him through his thirty years of teaching there. “They mobilized the whole tour group to provide financial resources to facilitate ‘Imiloa’s important mission of furthering understanding of both astronomy and Hawaiian culture.

The other Carleton tour leader, Dr. Sidney Wolff, is an astronomer who was with the UH Mānoa Institute for Astronomy for 17 years and served as the first director of the international Gemini Observatory project during its early years. She points out that “Many scientists first became interested in science as children through fascination with astronomy and space science. I hope that some of the children who visit ‘Imiloa because of our donation will be similarly inspired to pursue careers in science.”


Carleton College is an undergraduate liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota with a distinguished record of national leadership in science education. More than a third of its students major in math or science, and about 20 percent of its graduates go on to work in scientific research or healthcare.


“Mahalo nui loa to our new friends from Carleton,” says ‘Imiloa Executive Director Ka‘iu Kimura. “‘Imiloa owes our founding to a unique set of geographical and historical circumstances, but we see universal applicability in our mission to explore science and culture as different facets of the same reality. Even on a short visit from far away, the Carleton alumni immediately understood and embraced this mission…and then stepped up with financial support to help ‘Imiloa inspire the next generation of innovators and explorers. It is a privilege to have worked with them on this special project and we salute their far-sighted philanthropy!”

Each year ‘Imiloa opens our doors to 10,000+ K-12 schoolchildren for curriculum-related field trips, and we are grateful for the support from private donors which makes it possible for us to offset the cost of many of their visits. To donate online, visit: or contact Margaret Shiba, Director of Institutional Advancement at 808.932.8921 or

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