Nothing inspires us for the road ahead like hearing directly from those who have forged the path before us. Our keynote speakers are multidisciplinary and multicultural trailblazers in their field, who will share their personal experiences, reflections, and advice on the plenary stage and energize attendees to persist in their own journeys.
Opening Keynote Speaker
H.E. President Hilda C. Heine, Ed. D
President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands
President Hilda C, Heine, Ed. D, the eighth President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, is the first Marshallese woman to be chosen as President from 33 membership of the Marshall Islands Nitijela (Parliament). President Heine represents Aur Atoll and is one of three women elected to the Nitijela (Parliament) following the November 2015 general election for a term of 4 years. President Heine previously served for four years, 2012-2015, as Minister of Education in the administration of former President Christopher J. Loeak.
Prior to entering politics, President Heine served the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands as a classroom teacher, school counselor, college president and Secretary of Education. During her tenure as President of the College of the Marshall Islands, President Heine supervised the transformation of the College from a continuing education program into a fully operational and fully accredited community college.
President Heine relocated to Honolulu, Hawaii in 1995 where she worked for the Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL) for ten years in various capacities including as the Director of Policy and Capacity Building, as the Scholar for the Freely Associated States (FAS) Education, and as the Program Director of the Pacific Comprehensive Assistance Center, the post she held until 2010 when she ran for political office.
As Minister of Education, President Heine successfully got the Nitijela (Parliament) to pass a legislation establishing a separate and independent Public School System for the RMI, giving it more governance autonomy including the ability to recruit, set compensation package, and manage its own professional staff.
President Heine was awarded an honorary Doctorate Degree from the College of the Marshall Islands and a Doctor of Laws from the University of Guam in 2016. In September 2019, the Chancellorship for the University of the South Pacific (USP), a premier higher education institution serving students from Pacific member countries, was conferred on President Heine.
President Heine is a crusader for women’s rights and currently serves as an advisor to the Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI), a non-governmental organization that she co-founded with other Marshallese women leaders in 1987; WUTMI strengthens the voices of RMI women by promoting humaH rights and good governance, the Marshallese culture, and women empowerment in the economic and political spaces. Under President Heine’s leadership, the Pacific Women Leaders Coalition was formed earlier in 2019 to provide support and advocacy for Pacific women leaders.
President Heine was born on Jaluit Atoll to Reverend Bourne and Kathy Heine in 1951 where she grew up and attended public school; following secondary level education at Marshall Islands High School; and graduation from Cottage Grove High School in Cottage Grove, Oregon. President Heine attended University of Oregon (1970), where she earned her undergraduate degree, a master’s degree at the University of Hawaii in 1975, and an Educational Leaders doctorate at the University of Southern California in 2004.
President Heine and her husband, Thomas Kijiner Jr., have 3 children and 5 grandchildren. She enjoys reading historical and contemporary writings with special emphasis on education and social administrations in Small Island Developing States and likes to listen to music and cooking.
Esteban Gonzalez Burchard, M.D., MPH
Professor, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)
Dr. Burchard is a physician-scientist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Dr. Burchard has formal training and expertise in internal medicine, pulmonary and critical care medicine, epidemiology, molecular genetics, and genetic and clinical research. Dr. Burchard initiated and now directs the largest study of asthma in minority children in the U.S. Dr. Burchard is the Director of the UCSF Asthma Collaboratory, a large inter- disciplinary research program focused on minority children and gene-environment interactions for asthma.
Dr. Burchard’s team was the first to leverage genetic ancestry to identify novel genetic and environmental risk factors for lung disease and poor drug response among minority children with asthma. Dr. Burchard is the Principal Investigator of the Asthma Translational Genomics Collaborative (ATGC), the largest whole genome sequencing study of asthma in the world. Dr. Burchard served as an advisor to the Director for the National Institutes of Health All of Us initiative. In August 2018 Dr. Burchard received the Lifetime Achievement award from the National Medical Foundation and inducted into San Francisco State University’s Alumni Hall of Fame.
Dr. Pualani Kanakaʻole-Kanahele
Retired, University of Hawai’i and the Community College System | Past President, Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation (EKF)
Dr. Pualani Kanakaʻole-Kanahele retired from the University of Hawaiʻi and the Community College System in 2013 following forty years of service. She also retired as Kumu Hula or Dance Teacher of the Hawaiian traditional dance in 2011, of which she had been involved since infancy. “Aunty Pua”, as she is called, passed on her responsibility as President of the Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation (EKF) in 2012 with twenty four years of leadership. EKF is a 501C-3 with the mission to elevate Hawaiian intelligence. This retirement vein has seeped into all other phases of life with committees, community work, broadcasting, etc.
Pualani Kanakaʻole-Kanahele is of pure Hawaiian ancestry and is very passionate about being Hawaiian and living on the islands. This passion does not diminish with age therefore no retirement from being. There is in fact an energy that pushes forward to increase understanding.
Aunty Pua is a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, photographer, teacher, author, pilot, researcher, adventurer, sailor, dancer, choreographer, chanter, thinker, activist, creator and a believer of things Hawaiʻi. All of these experiences cast the mold of who she is and how she lives her life.
I am Hawaiʻi, this I know! Ua ʻike au!
Dr. Karletta Chief (Diné)
Associate Professor & Extension Specialist, University of Arizona Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Sciences
Dr. Karletta Chief (Diné) is an Associate Professor and Specialist in Soil, Water, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Arizona (UA). Her research focuses on understanding, tools, and predictions of watershed hydrology, unsaturated flow in arid environments, and how natural and human disturbances impact water resources. As an extension specialist, she works to bring relevant science to Native American communities in a culturally sensitive manner by providing hydrology expertise, transferring knowledge, assessing information needs, and developing applied science projects. Dr. Chief is a member of a national climate change network of indigenous and non-indigenous scientists. Two of her primary tribal projects are The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Climate Adaptation and Traditional Knowledge and The Navajo Nation Gold King Mine Spill Impacts. Dr. Chief is the Principal Investigator of the National Science Foundation Training Track “Indigenous Food, Energy, and Water Security and Sovereignty” where 12 graduate trainees are learning FEWS skills and how to work with indigenous communities. Dr. Chief is Diné from Black Mesa, AZ and was raised without electricity or running water. She is a first generation college graduate. Dr. Chief received a B.S. and M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Stanford University in 1998 and 2000, and a Ph.D. in Hydrology and Water Resources from UA in 2007. She completed her post-doctorate at Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas, NV. Dr. Chief’s accomplishments include 2011 American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) Most Promising Scientist/Scholar, 2013 Stanford University Distinguished Alumni Scholar, 2015 Native American 40 under 40, 2016 AISES Professional of the Year, and 2016 Phoenix Indian Center Woman of the Year.
Dr. Pamela E. Harris
Assistant Professor, Williams College
Dr. Cliff Kapono
Dr. Cliff Kapono is a professional surfer, chemist, and journalist. Born on the eastern shores of Hawai‘i, his life involves equal parts science as it does surf. While contributing several peer-reviewed publications to the fields of molecular bioscience, he has also produced a handful of award-winning films that discuss indigenous activism, ocean conservation, global food security and virtual reality. He has been profiled in publications such as The New York Times, NBC, CBS, Surfer Magazine, and more. Cliff is currently based in Hilo, Hawai‘i and can be found tinkering in the lab when not chasing the best waves on the planet.
Dr. Danielle N. Lee
Assistant Professor, Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville | Network Blogger, Scientific American | Research Associate, Sokoine University of Agriculture (Morogoro, Tanzania)
Dr. Danielle N. Lee is an outreach scientist who studies the behavioral biology and natural history of small mammals across urban gradients. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Southern Illinois Edwardsville. Her research includes examining behavioral variation of field mice in the Metro St. Louis area and the natural history of African giant pouched rats of Tanzania. She is well known for her science promotion and outreach in social media. Dr. Lee was selected as a National Geographic Society Emerging Explorer in 2017 and TED Fellow in 2015. In 2014, she was named as one of EBONY Magazine’s Power 100 and a White House Champion of Change in STEM Diversity and Access. Follow her and her science adventures on Twitter or Instagram at @DNLee5.
Dr. Brittany Kamai
Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr. Brittany Kamai is a Native Hawaiian physicist. She is on a mission to enhance our fundamental understanding of the universe. Her research focuses on improving gravitational wave detectors with novel technology ideas. Dr. Kamai is a lifetime member because she believes deeply in the mission of SACNAS, which is to support one another throughout our STEM journeys. Dr. Kamai is currently at Caltech as a Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program Postdoctoral Fellow and soon-to-be Heising-Simons Foundation Fellow. She is a member of the LIGO collaboration determined to improve the detectors with metamaterials. Dr. Kamai infuses the aloha spirit into her practice of science. She serves on national and international advisory committees to advocate for path towards inclusive astrophysics.