Ty Shitanaka and Soch Tork are students in the Dept. of Molecular Biosciences and BioEngineering who meet regularly in the laboratory of professor Samir Khanal. Like the rest of UH, they’ve learned to weather Zoom classes and partial in-person labs due to Covid – on top of affording the rent and a square meal.
But there’s one thing neither is worried about right now, and that’s scraping together enough dough to pay tuition. Ty was recently awarded a Dean’s Scholarship from the UH Graduate Division, while Soch has been selected to receive a Foreign Language and Area Studies Program Fellowship from the East-West Center.
“The award covers almost all my tuition for this semester, which I’m very happy for,” says Ty. “This makes it so much easier to focus on my 4.0 GPA, which I’m very determined to maintain.”
The grad student’s enthusiasm is obvious as he explains nanobubble technology, the research adventure he’s pursuing to enhance the biomass and fatty acid production of an algae species, Nannochlorospsis limnetica.
“It’s pretty novel, I believe, using tiny bubbles to improve algae growth, which will lead to higher amounts of valuable fats, which we can then use for feeding tilapia, salmon, shrimp and other organisms, as well as extract these products as supplements for people,” he says. “My project has promise to reduce the economic cost of aquafeed, provide a higher nutritional basis, and reduce the ecological pressures on fisheries.”
He adds, “CTAHR has definitely allowed me incredible opportunities to pursue my education, and I’m thankful for everyone’s support.”
A bioengineering undergrad, CTAHR Student Ambassador, and volunteer in Samir’s lab, Soch “always felt a disconnect between myself and the Cambodian-American community because I lost the language at an early age and was not able to talk with them, especially my mom,” he says.
Just for fun, and because UH is a rare institution that teaches the Cambodian language, Soch decided to take a class – and realized he liked it.
“It is an opportunity to reclaim my language and my identity, so when I became eligible for the fellowship, I thought it could be another great opportunity to dive even more into my history and my language,” he says.
His main courses are still in MBBE, as are his career goals, but there’s always time for family. Soch’s goal is to someday bring his mom back to Cambodia – which she fled during the genocide – to show his mom her roots and together, better understand their family.
“I strongly encourage other CTAHR students to pursue anything you’re passionate about, or even curious; the reward opportunities will come your way,” he says. “The FLAS is one of those big scholarships I never thought I could get. And instead of me taking out loans, it will pay for my whole school year.”