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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A garden for fertile college minds

Photo galleryPhoto gallery: Windward biotech garden

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Steve Moulden, right, gives a tour of the Bioprocessing Medicinal Garden Complex, which consists of plants that are used for experiments. The garden is in conjunction with the plant biotechnology program and the agriculture technology program.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The Windward Community College Bio-Resources and Technology program offers certifications in:

Plant Biotechnology Career application: Biotechnology and environmental science/studies. Students able to transfer to bachelor of science degree programs.

Uses: This knowledge is used in plant production systems, assuring a safe food supply and environment.

Credits needed: 26

Bio-Resource Development and Management Career application: Environmental science/studies. Students able to transfer to bachelor of science degree programs.

Uses: This knowledge is an asset to the productive and efficient use of natural resources for promoting sustainable management of our environment.

Credits needed: 26

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KANE'OHE To the untrained eye, plants growing at the new Bioprocessing Medicinal Garden Complex at Windward Community College appear to be weeds, flowers and food, but the students who will use these plants could turn them into the next miracle drug or economic engine.

The garden is the final phase of the development of the college's Bio-Resources and Technology program, which offers certifications in Plant Biotechnology and Bio-Resource Development and Management.

But to program developer Ingelia White, who has a Ph.D. in horticulture, the garden is the beginning of learning and getting students excited about research and possible entrepreneurship. The program also gives students an edge when seeking employment in the biotech fields or pursuing a higher degree, White said.

"That is the bottom line," said White after a dedication ceremony for the garden yesterday. "Teaching is one thing, but what I really want from them is their own active learning. Then they can use knowledge to make something out of the ordinary."

White began putting the program together in 2001 and started offering certificates in 2003. Her students have gone on to get jobs in the biotechnology field, enter medical school, earn master's degrees and create products for sale.

The garden, on about an acre of land opposite Hale 'Imiloa, has three elements: a plant garden, an aquaponic section for growing fish and a processing plant to extract useful properties from plants. The garden has medicinal, nutritional and farm plants from Asia, Pacific islands, Hawai'i and the Mainland.

At the ceremony, displays included teas produced from the plants including pigweed, sweet potato, popolo and purple sweet basil. Perfumes from plumeria, rose and orchids were also on display.

After the ceremony, dishes were served that contained ingredients from the garden, including cilantro, ho'io and torch ginger.

Edna Shoup, a member of the Kane'ohe Outdoor Circle, said the research aspect of the garden and college program could play a role in developing medicinal products in Hawai'i. For instance, the monkeypod tree is related to St. John's breadtree, which has been used for food, Shoup said, adding that she's tasted the seed from the monkeypod and it is sweet.

"Maybe one of the young (students) can do some kind of project to see if it's usable," she said.

Angela Meixel, WCC chancellor, praised the program, saying it gives students another option for work and studies.

"It's really exciting because students will get a real job, a job that earns a living wage for their families," Meixel said.

For college students Natalie Kong and Erin Yafuso, the program and working with plants have given them a step up in pursuing their goals. After going through the program, Kong entered the University of Hawai'i's John A. Burns School of Medicine and Yafuso is pursuing a master's degree in biotechnology. Both women said White's enthusiasm and the courses were key to their success.

"White wants to teach and give out all the knowledge she has," Yafuso said. "That's contagious and you become infected and you're really interested in learning new processes and new technology."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.