Jan Sullivan’s Promising Vision of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawai’i

jan sullivans headshot.2013

Oceanit's Chief Operating Officer, Jan Sullivan, spoke at the University of Hawai'i, Institute of Astronomy's 50th Anniversary celebration that took place on June 28. She encouraged leadership and persistence in achieving a vision for the future and in pursuing the common-good as our predecessors did in times past. For a full transcript of her speech, please read below:


On behalf of the BOR of the UH, we congratulate the Institute for Astronomy on 50 years of building what was only a vision – into the world class research institute that exists here today.

I have to admit that this event gave me the opportunity to make a bit of time to learn more about the history of astronomy in Hawai'i. I was able to review some of the correspondence and documents from the Hawai'i State Archives. This helped to bring the story of astronomy in Hawai'i to life for me.

I learned that 1963 was a critical year in this story:
1. In 1963, Howard Ellis, who had manned the Mauna Loa weather station for years, facilitated a visit by Gerard Kuiper, an internationally recognized astronomer that headed the Univ. of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. The Univ. of AZ was searching for a site for a new observatory and Gerard had been looking at sites throughout the US and Chile.
2. Also 1963, Walter Steiger from the UH’s own Physics department realized his dream of completing a Solar Observatory on the summit area of Haleakala.
3. That same year, Mitsuo Akiyama, Exec. Secretary to the Hawai'i Island Chamber of Commerce began the first of many communications with Gov. Burns and Thomas Hamilton – then Pres. of UH – pushing, lobbying and building broad base support for the establishment of astronomy research on the Island of Hawai'i.
4. Finally, that same year, I believe John Jefferies stopped in Hawai'i enroute from Australia – and the UH did its best to court him to move to Hawai'i to eventually become IFA’s founding director.

The following year, on July 20, 1964, almost 53 years to this date, the Hawai'i Island Chamber of Commerce held a large ceremony to dedicate the Mauna Kea summit road, and the observatory station of Gerard’s Lunar Planetary Lab.
In attendance were the visionary leaders for our State during this dynamic period of history: Gov. Burns, Sen. Inouye, Sen. Hiram Fong, Congressman Spark Matsunaga, Congressman Tom Gill. These were the giants in Hawai'i’s history that led our territory into Statehood with vision and into new, uncharted waters.

The astronomer, Gerard, addressed the distinguished crowd and started by saying “I do not recall an occasion in my professional career that had the excitement and the promise of this moment. Here we stand on the highest mountain of the Pacific in the clearest and purest air that astronomers have found for making observations in support of the greatest of all human ventures: travel to the moon, hopefully by 1970, and later possibly to Mars…”

He went on address Gov. Burns in particular with a message: “Mr. Governor, as a scientist who has worked in Europe, Java, the mainland, Chile and on Haleakala, I want to tell you that, to use the words of Mr. Alika Herring, our first observer, “This mountain is it.” It is a jewel! This is the place where the most advanced and powerful observations from this Earth can be made. I believe that as citizens of the United States, it behooves us to strengthen the scientific position of this country by developing the potentialities of this mountain top….”

His words 53 years ago were prophetic as he went on to close by saying that “I want to stress that recreation, conservation and science are not rivals; on the contrary, that their interests are parallel.”

It is said that those with vision of what can be, of what does not exist today – are either condemned as fools or eventually crowned as prophets. Those who dare to dream of that which does not exist, must be willing to persevere to turn vision into reality. And I am certain that what I shared with you of today was just a tiny sliver of all that it took to jump start and build astronomy in Hawaii' over 5 decades.

Our challenge today is to regain relevancy and connection with the community, at every level – a community that was critical to jump starting the vision that has become IFA – a community that once overwhelmingly supported the endeavor of astronomy in the State of Hawai'i.

Our obligation today, is to set a vision for where astronomy in Hawai'i should be in the year 2067 – 50 years from today.
Will WE provide good leadership, will WE have the forward-leaning vision and courage that our predecessors had more than 50 years ago?

It is incumbent upon all of us to connect science and astronomy to all of Hawai'i, to its broader community, to its people. The price for failure will be the slow decline of all that was built over the last half century.

On this auspicious occasion, it is my hope that we will take this to task to heart.
History has already proven that working together we can accomplish incredible things.


– Jan Sullivan
Remarks at the University of Hawai'i’s Institute for Astronomy’s 50th anniversary event
June 28, 2017