Written By Gregory Fischbach

June 04, 2024
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Blaise Babineck

Blaise Babineck.

When HPU alumnus Blaise Babineck earned his B.S. in chemistry at the age of 18, he became one of the youngest graduates to earn a bachelor’s degree at the University. He was named as the undergraduate valedictory speaker and became the most junior teacher in the Hawaiʻi Department of Education when he began his teaching career later that fall.

He is now poised to achieve another milestone. At the age of 20, next year, he will begin his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the top-ranked Ph.D. program in chemistry. Meanwhile, having just returned to HPU this summer, he’s enrolled in the Master of Education in Secondary Education program and is scheduled to graduate in 2025.

Blaise Babineck with HPU President John Gotanda

Blaise Babineck with HPU President John Gotanda.

Babineck’s story at HPU began when he enrolled as a dual-enrollment student from Maryknoll School when he was just 16, taking organic chemistry and analytical chemistry classes at the junior and senior levels. 

“When you’re having fun it’s not really work, and I was having so much fun with the coursework at HPU. It was not easy, but rather, it was a challenge, a puzzle! I had a great amount of fun in the process of earning my degree. It kept me motivated,” said Babineck.

A first-generation STEM student, he discovered an early interest in science when he was in the eighth grade. It was the ideal time in his life to challenge himself to see what was possible. He won the school’s science fair, taking third place in the district and won second place at the state science fair. He was student body president and played basketball, becoming MVP on a championship team.

He explained that “Eighth grade is a magical year. It’s the ideal time to learn your interests before going to high school. You have the drive to pursue academic pursuits, and if a student knows what their interests are they can enter ninth grade ready to choose the right electives and really hit the ground running.” 

When Babineck applied to Maryknoll School it was with the goal to earn a scholarship to help pay for the majority of his studies. He not only got in, but he received a nearly full-ride scholarship that made it possible for his family to send him to the private school.

“My freshman biology teacher at Maryknoll introduced me to research, and I just loved to talk to her about that and her background in STEM,” Babineck said. “My initial interest was to become a doctor, but when I took AP chemistry at Maryknoll I really challenged myself and saw right away that I loved chemistry. Soon, I was able to help my classmates with the content and I explored research articles on my own.”

At HPU, Babineck continued his pursuit of understanding chemistry. While taking organic chemistry taught by HPU Chemistry Professor David Horgen, Ph.D., he was challenged academically and performed so well that he was invited to serve as a teaching assistant the following year. Horgen immediately recognized Babineck’s potential and helped create research opportunities that included independent projects in his own lab.   

“Blaise is one the highest performing students we have ever had in the sciences at HPU,” said Horgen. “He takes advantage of almost every opportunity to develop as a scientist, a teacher, and a citizen. He has a seemingly endless amount of energy and ability to juggle many projects and responsibilities at once. It has been fun to watch him grow and achieve, but his most inspiring characteristic is how helpful, committed, and supportive he is of his fellow classmates. It’s completely obvious to me that he is going to be a great scientist, teacher, and mentor.” 

Babineck’s first research advisor at HPU was Oceanography Professor David Hyrenbach, Ph.D., who fully trusted the 16-year-old to do his own independent research work in the lab. 

“Professor Hyrenbach’s belief in me gave me the confidence to work independently on research where I was able to contribute to the production of new knowledge. That was really an important milestone for me.” 

Another HPU faculty member that played a pivotal role in Babineck’s education was Dean of the College of Natural and Computational Sciences, Professor Brenda Jensen, Ph.D.

“Dean Jensen was my mentor, and she took the time to guide me through the college process, both personally and professionally. She was a beacon of light who went out of her way to help me in my unique circumstances.”

Babineck also had an active role in extracurricular activities as well. He was the president of HUI SRC, mentored undergraduate and graduate students in lab work, and helped promote the importance of teaching chemistry to children at several public schools across Hawaiʻi. He also helped lead a blood drive that helped save 141 lives in Hawaiʻi.

“HPU really cares about my success. I felt like I was special. They cared about what I was doing and really gave me the resources and support. It was priceless. I believe that everyone should try and go to school in Hawaiʻi – if they can – especially at HPU! They are great academically. It led me to go to MIT and is a testament to how fantastic HPU’s chemistry department is,” said Babineck. 

After earning his chemistry degree Babineck returned to the classroom as an eighth-grade chemistry teacher at King Intermediate in Kaneohe. He wanted to teach at a public school that was in a rural area with less exposure to the sciences. 

He jumped right in and invigorated his students to pursue their interests in science by encouraging students to enter the science fair. Going full circle, Babineck helped inspire eighth graders to see the magic of chemistry. He gave no restrictions on student projects, but gave one rule: challenge yourselves!

“All my students all came up with great projects. They worked in groups of two or three and they all did an amazing job in the school science fair. Three projects were selected to compete in the state science fair, and two have already won in their category. The three projects that are moving to the championships are looking at the harmful effects of red 40; the second project is determining what materials retain fingerprints best for forensic analysis; and the third project is using aerospace principles to design a glider with various materials.”

Babineck's career aspiration is to complete his Ph.D. at MIT and embark on a path as a chemistry professor and dedicated researcher. He aims to always contribute to the production of new knowledge, advancing chemistry and research.

“I love sharing my passion for chemistry,” said Babineck. “This was something that really helped me in my dreams of becoming a professor and chemist. What really pushed me in my science career was my teachers and professors. This is why teaching and giving back means the world to me.”

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