Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center

Develop resources in the areas of food self-reliance, energy self-reliance, and ecosystem health for the Kohala Center, Hawaii


The Kohala Center is an independent, not-for-profit, and community-based center for research and education. The Center was established in response to the request of island leaders and residents to create greater employment and educational opportunities by caring for — and celebrating — Hawaii Island's unique natural and cultural landscape. Core interest areas include: food self-reliance, energy self-reliance, and ecosystem health. These areas of work involve basic and applied research, policy research, conservation and restoration initiatives, public outreach and education — all carried out through local, regional, national, and international partnerships.

The Challenges

There are three program areas, in which discrete projects can be developed. These are, again, food self-reliance, energy self-reliance, and ecosystem health.

In the area of food self-reliance and waste management, and directly connected to energy self-reliance, we would need assistance with:

  1. testing locally grown bamboo varieties for International Code Council (ICC) approval as a structural material for Hawaii Island buildings, thus assuring that the islands can develop building materials from local agricultural initiatives.
  2. analyzing the potential for sourcing agricultural Inputs from island outputs: identifying all outputs/wastes on Hawaii island that could serve as agricultural inputs and developing a business case for the creation of an island-wide resource recovery and distribution program.
  3. designing composting and mulching systems for large resort complexes.
  4. developing uses for waste materials not suitable for use in agricultural systems to assist in further closing the materials loop on the island.
  5. designing a new waste water system for the town of Kailua-Kona on the leeward side of Hawaii Island.
  6. designing sustainable agricultural parks, including water and utility systems and farm worker housing.
  7. designing energy efficient farm facilities, including farm dwellings and processing plants;
  8. designing distributed energy generation technologies for agricultural parks and small family farms (all, of course, linked with water resource management issues);
  9. designing and testing machinery for small and medium scale farms, including processing systems for biomass;
  10. developing business plans for food production and distribution systems;
  11. developing regional branding and marketing campaigns for locally and organically produced products;
  12. developing business plans to establish an island-based organic seed industry.

In the area of energy self-reliance, we would need assistance with projects that address our island's extreme reliance on fossil fuels for electricity:

  1. analysis of the Hawaii Energy Plan and the assignment of energy efficiencies and renewable energy interim goals, especially in terms of how many kilowatt hours are expected to be saved from efficiencies and how many kilowatt hours can be generated by renewable options as we strive for the goal of 70 percent renewables by 2030. This analysis could be expanded to include all industries and government entities on Hawaii Island or it could be restricted to the Department of Water Supply, the single biggest user of electricity on Hawaii Island.
  2. analysis of the Department of Water Supply water pumping, water consumption, and electrical use by district with the goal of developing baseline costs and water conservation strategies focused on specific Water Supply Districts (I, II, III, and IV) with interim and long term goals. There should be a connection between water conservation strategies and the energy efficiency goals described above.
  3. improvement of the island-wide electrical grid system to maximize the integration of renewable, intermittent energy resources;
  4. designs for stand-alone, lowest cost, off-grid energy systems for residential, commercial, and agricultural use, preferably "plug and play".

In the area of ecosystem health, we would need assistance with data management, data analysis, and GIS-based display of information and analysis:

  1. programming assistance with an information management system in a complete "ridge to reef" environment — with the challenge of bringing together indigenous knowledge systems and Western scientific and resource management knowledge for a decision support system;
  2. programming assistance with developing an information management system to support a long-term socio-ecological research project based on a whole systems approach to energy, food, water, waste, and the built environment in a bounded island setting.

While the program areas allow for building a strong and continuing relationship (thus fostering iterative learning over time), projects themselves are discrete and can be completed within timeframes established by MIT's academic programs: to wit, January term, full-semester, year-long, and summer projects work well for The Kohala Center. Further, The Center could easily accommodate MS, MBA, MPA, or PhD dissertation projects. Please know that The Center has always worked in partnership with universities and is thus familiar with academic requirements and processes.

Qualifications and Assets

Mature, highly motivated, community-oriented students with an appreciation for working with multi-cultural complexity and in a post-colonial setting. Graduate students preferred.

Time Constraints

Looking for help during Summer 2011


MIT students interested in developing projects around these ideas should contact Betsy Cole, Deputy Director of the Kohala Center, at or 808.887.6411.

PKG Center Support

MIT students who develop projects around these ideas may apply for support from the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center's Fellowships, Internships, or Grants programs. Please check the program descriptions and deadlines and talk to program staff to determine which is most appropriate for your needs and project.

If you are eligible for Federal Work-Study, you should consider our Community Service Work-Study program. Contact the program coordinator at for more details.

If your project involves a significant innovation, it may also be suitable for the IDEAS Competition.

If you have funding from outside the PKG Center that enables you to work on one of this project, that's great! However, please do let us know if you work on a project you saw advertised here, even if you don't use our funds. And remember, the PKG Center staff are happy to advise on service projects even if we are not funding them ourselves.

Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room W20-549, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
Tel: 617-253-0742  ·  Fax: 617-258-9357
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