They give voice to paralyzed patients, detect exotic particles, solve mathematical conundrums and more. You can even blame one of them for all the hours you spent playing Tetris. Meet eight Islanders who are, quite simply, geniuses.
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The Social Entrepreneur
Olin Lagon has lived a long life for a 37-year-old. He grew up in Honolulu public housing projects, flunked out of high school and at 17 was sent to Mississippi, where he joined the military and inexplicably scored a perfect score in a diesel mechanic course, breaking the school’s record—all this without studying. His teacher was impressed and told him to consider becoming an engineer. “It was the first time in my life anyone had ever told me to try,” says Lagon. He enrolled at Honolulu Community College and graduated from UH Manoa with a 4.0.
During his senior year, Lagon discovered his entrepreneurial knack. To list all of the companies he has been involved with would take up more room than we have, but to be brief: He helped create WorldPoint, a Web translation software company whose clients included Nike, FedEx and Kodak; he served as the CEO of Hawaiian Homestead Technology, which creates technology jobs in Native Hawaiian communities; and he co-founded ChipIn/Sprout, a widget management platform used by Disney, Coca-Cola, MTV and others.
Today, he’s the co-director of the nonprofit organization Kanu Hawaii. “I’ll probably start another 20 companies that focus on social impact before I die,” says Lagon, “but I’ll never forget where I came from.”
The Dog Whisperer
In Maureen Maurer’s line of work, she takes the phrase, “Man’s best friend” to a whole new level. In 2000, she launched her Maui-based nonprofit Hawaii Canines for Independence, and, since then, she’s trained and placed more than 40 service dogs with physically disabled people in the Islands. But wait, there’s more.
In 2008, a man with cerebral palsy was in need of a service dog. The problem: The man could think normally, and had the use of his right hand, but he wasn’t able to speak, making it impossible to communicate with a dog. Not so, thought Maurer. She developed a new type of communication in which the man used hand signals to tell the dog what to do. That same year, she figured out a way for people who are completely paralyzed, but have the ability to move their eyes, to communicate with dogs. “When dogs are bonded with partners they watch their faces, and research studies show that dogs will actually follow a person’s gaze,” she says. Maurer has now trained canines to do things like open a door or turn on a light just by seeing a person stare at an object.
Today, she’s working on a project involving scent-detection, in which she’s researching new ways that dogs can provide early detection of medical conditions, such as skin cancer. (FYI: A dog’s sense of smell is 200,000 times stronger than a human’s.)
Sakamaki Extraordinary Lectures 2010
The Sakamaki Extraordinary Lectures are an annual summer series extending the intellectual resources of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa to the community. The 2010 series was inspired by this article and provides an opportunity to meet some of the gifted individuals profiled here. Let them share with you their passions and endless curiosity and lead you to your own discoveries of the genius in us all.
Here is the schedule and topic of the lectures:
June 2 – The Nature of Giftedness, The Nurturing of Leaders
June 9 – Encounters at the End of the World
July 7 – From Blue Planet to Blue Mars: Avatars and Replicants for Alternative Realities
July 21 – Stories of Social Entrepreneurship in Hawai‘i
July 28 – Unleashing Abilities: The Genius of Dogs
Lectures are FREE and open to the public
Events begin at 7:00 pm in UHM's Architecture Auditorium (unless otherwise noted).
For more information, call 956-2729 or visit outreach.hawaii.edu.