Jonas Umlauft: Soaring on Court and in the Classroom

By: Eric R. Matsunaga,  Marketing and Public Affairs Director, College of Engineering

On any given night at a UH Warrior men’s volleyball match, it quickly becomes evident that the player wearing the number 10 jersey possesses a special skill set and mastery of the game with thunderous, high-flying spikes. In fact, for the second consecutive season, Jonas Umlauft was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American First Team and for the second consecutive year, led the nation in kills.

What is unknown to most is that Umlauft is equally as talented in the classroom as an electrical engineering major. His dominance on-court is matched in the classroom as Umlauft carries a current GPA of 3.93 in what is traditionally known as the most difficult area in engineering. In fact, he has already taken junior level classes and may be able to complete his undergraduate degree in three and a half years.

What is refreshing about Umlauft is that he does not fit the mold of the stereotypical athlete. After a stellar four-year career in volleyball at Landschulheim Kempfenhausen High School in Stamberg, Germany, including winning the 2008 German National Championship, Umlauft could have easily transitioned to a successful professional career in Europe. Instead, he chose to come to the United States and to the UH Mānoa to study electrical engineering.

“I came to the U.S. to combine academics and athletics as a way to challenge my brain, which would not have been possible had I stayed,” said Umlauft. “Playing professionally is still an option after I graduate, but it’s not my favorite thing to pursue.”

What Umlauft would like to purse is a career in electrical engineering back in Germany, where he left a lot of broken items and gadgets around his parents’ home in Stadtbergen. He credits his early interest in engineering to a fascination with disassembling things. Luckily for the Umlauft household, his father Juergan was an electrical engineer and could piece together the results of his son’s curiosity.

“I had a lot of fun taking things apart to see how they worked, but after I reassembled them, they wouldn’t work,” he said. “I was tired of breaking things, so I decided to learn how things worked.”

His need to understand how things work, combined with his hobby of flying radio controlled model airplanes, led Umlauft to electrical engineering.

“I usually bought assembled sets, so there was not much to modify in terms of the aerodynamics,” he said. “So for optimization purposes, I focused on the electrical components like the engine, controller and receiver.”

“For me, design is the most interesting part of EE because you have the most freedom to solve a problem ‘your way,’” he added. “You have a lot of variables to take into account and you see what tradeoffs engineers in the real world are facing.”

For Umlauft, the key to success on the court and in the classroom, despite the rigors of practice, matches and travel, is to approach classes with the same mindset of treating every drill in practice as though it were the championship match.

Electrical Engineering Assistant Professor Aaron Ohta, one of Umlauft’s instructors, is impressed by his conscientiousness. “Although he must adhere to a tough physical training schedule, and travels frequently for road games, he has still managed to complete all of his assignments,” said Ohta. “In class, he is attentive, and asks questions that demonstrate his ability to quickly grasp concepts in a difficult subject like electrical circuits.”




“Warriors To Asia”

The University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team plans a goodwill tour to Asia this summer.

The 15-day “Warriors To Asia” tour will include stops in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing in China and Tokyo and Osaka in Japan. The team will leave on August 6 and will return to Honolulu on August 21. During that time the team will play five international exhibition games and partake in numerous cultural activities, all the while building a valuable bridge between Asia and the University of Hawai’i.

For more information, visit

The Parvin Fellowship Program in Journalism Studies

University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw and Phyllis Parvin, president of the Albert Parvin Foundation.

The Parvin Fellowship Program in Journalism Studies builds international understanding through journalism training, advanced studies and U.S. cultural contacts for journalists from the People’s Republic of China.

University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw recently traveled to China with Phyllis Parvin to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Parvin Fellowship Program in Journalism Studies. Parvin is president of the Albert Parvin Foundation, which is the principal financial sponsor of the program at UH Mānoa.

Over the years, this pioneering program has yielded more than 200 Chinese journalists and hosts the largest number of journalists the PRC sends abroad as a group for training. A majority of Parvin Fellows have come from China Daily and the Xinhua News Agency.

For more information, visit

Top photo: University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw and Phyllis Parvin, president of the Albert Parvin Foundation, at China Daily.

Hawai’i Natural Energy Institute

The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) was established to undertake and coordinate research and development of the island’s renewable energy resources. HNEI has an exceptional record of achievement, including spearheading the discovery and use of geothermal power in Hawai‘i, developing the technology to use biomass for energy, charcoal (photo at left) and high-value chemicals, and establishing the most comprehensive hydrogen program of any university in the nation.

In keeping with its mandate to develop alternatives to imported fossil fuels, HNEI has established a major fuel cell research and development program. This effort builds on HNEI’s highly successful research on hydrogen production from renewable resources and bolsters the State of Hawai‘i’s goals of reducing its heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels for electricity and transportation. Major research activities are conducted at the Hawai‘i Fuel Cell Test Facility, a state-of-the-art research facility to characterize fuel cell performance and reliability.

HNEI is also exploring technologies to harness wave and ocean thermal energy. Ocean thermal energy conversion, or OTEC, generates energy by harnessing the flow of heat from a reservoir of warm surface ocean water to a reservoir of cold water pumped from the deep ocean. HNEI studies show Hawai‘i’s leeward waters provide ideal conditions for OTEC energy production.

For more information, visit


Asian Theatre Program

The UH Mānoa Department of Theatre and Dance is home to the largest university-based Asian theatre program in the world and is renowned for its training programs.  With roots that reach back to 1923, the Asian Theatre Program today offers rigorous and exciting training and instruction in three areas—Japanese, Chinese, and South and Southeast Asian theatre.

The faculty experts in these fields are widely recognized and honored for their scholarship, creative work, and diligent service in designing and directing programs and productions which bring master artists from around the world into the department to train student performers, designers and musicians.  From these programs have resulted some of the most outstanding Asian theatre productions to be seen outside of their respective countries of origin.

Elizabeth Wichmann-Walczak, professor and director of the Asian Theatre program, was the first non-Chinese to perform Jingju in the People’s Republic of China and is the first honorary (and first non-Chinese) member of the National Xiqu (“Chinese opera”) Institute. She is also the recipient of Jingju’s Golden Chrysanthemum Award, the equivalent of America’s lifetime-achievement Tony Award, for outstanding achievements in promoting and developing Jingju.

For more information, visit

The Confucius Institute

“The verdant Hawai‘i Islands in their mid-Pacific location have for over two centuries played a siren song to travelers from the greatest land mass in East Asia. The earliest Chinese emigrants landed on Hawai‘i’s shores beginning in 1789, and built the first wooden structures around Honolulu harbor that are the forerunners of the business district of modern Honolulu. In 1879, a 13-year old Chinese boy landed on these same shores, and absorbed enough modern Western (Christian) education in Honolulu’s schools to topple the religious altars in his own home, and decades later, as Sun Yatsen, helped overthrow an empire to establish a democracy in his homeland.”

Given the prominence of these early connections between Hawai‘i and the Chinese, and the composition of Hawai‘i’s population, it is not surprising that by 1930 UH ranked third among U.S.colleges and universities in the number of Asia-related courses it offered.  Today, the university’s Center for Chinese Studies housed within the School of Pacific and Asian Studies, is the largest such research and training center outside of Asia.

The Confucius Institute at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa is a part of the university’s Center for Chinese Studies.  Funded by the Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban) of the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, it is operated jointly by UH Mānoa and the Beijing Foreign Studies University.  It was established on November 6, 2006, and tasked with responding to local and national needs in promoting education about Chinese language and culture,

For more information, visit

Feature: Our aging planet

Andrew Mason

Can we afford to grow old?  And will society be bankrupted by the high cost of supporting our rapidly growing elderly population?  In Japan, for example, the proportion of the population ages 60 and older has nearly doubled over the past 20 years—jumping from 17 percent in 1990 to an incredible 31 percent in 2010.  Comparable statistics in other countries show similar trends, with the worldwide population expected to hit the seven million mark by the end of 2011.

This matter of maturity has led international economists to ponder questions ranging from the fiscal viability of public pension payouts to the continued sustainability of healthcare services and programs. The answers may be found in a new book by authors Andrew Mason, a Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and his counterpart at the University of California at Berkeley, Ron Lee.  Their new release published by Edward Elgar, titled “Population Aging and the Generational Economy: A Global Perspective,” culminates a seven-year research project involving more than 50 economists and demographers from the U.S., Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America.

The book may be particularly timely because shifts in the population age structure are occurring more quickly today than at any other time in human history, posing both challenges and opportunities for policymakers, believes Mason.

Half of the countries of the world—concentrated in South Asia, Latin America and Africa—are experiencing lower fertility rates, leading to fewer children and a working-age population growing faster than other age groups.  Countries in this stage should be encouraged to invest their “demographic dividends” in educating and caring for the health of young people, who will become tomorrow’s workers, says Mason.  On the other hand, countries in North America, East Asia and Europe have already completed this phase of demographic transition of low child-birth rates, a shrinking working population and an explosion of elderly.

Will the growth of the gray-haired sector lead to a society with a preponderance of poverty?  Not necessarily, Mason answers.  “It is true that generous pension programs, typical of many high-income countries in Europe, will be difficult to sustain as populations grow older.  Similar concerns face policymakers in the United States in the form of rapidly escalating healthcare costs,” he says.  “Yet today, the elderly in some countries support themselves largely from assets they accumulated earlier in life.  The widely held view that population aging will lead to a decline in wealth, or a financial burden on families, is not supported by the evidence.”

To help policymakers worldwide understand the likely consequences of demographic changes, Mason, Lee and colleagues have established the National Transfer Accounts (NTA) network, a collaborative research effort that analyzes economic aspects of population aging around the world.  By estimating income and consumption of goods by age, together with economic flows across age groups, NTA can provide vital information to policymakers responsible for developing sustainable programs in healthcare, education and pensions, and formulating policies that foster generational equity and economic growth.

There will be budget challenges associated with our aging population, but taking note of these issues today will help avoid catastrophic consequences in the future.  For more information on the book and the NTA network, contact Andrew Mason at or visit the NTA website at

Top photo: A new book by UH Mānoa Professor Andrew Mason and UC Berkeley Professor Robert Lee reveal insights behind the world’s aging population.

Feature: The piano and the professor

Mari Yoshihara

According to her piano teacher, the magnitude of what Mari Yoshihara did this spring is a feat akin to a novice runner who has never before run a 10k—who goes on to finish a marathon.  What did the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Professor of American Studies accomplish?   In May 2011, she entered, was accepted and competed in the Sixth Annual Van Cliburn International Competition for Outstanding Amateurs in Fort Worth, Texas, after not seriously studying piano since she was a teenager in Japan.

Now a 43-year-old scholar of U.S. cultural history in Honolulu, Yoshihara’s journey to the Cliburn contest dates back to her youth.  Born in New York City, Yoshihara grew up in Tokyo and began taking piano lessons at the tender age of three.  A self-proclaimed piano “nerd,” Yoshihara’s childhood memories were consumed by Hanon scales, Czerny etudes, Bach inventions, and Beethoven and Mozart sonatas.

When Yoshihara turned eleven, her father’s job at an import-export company transplanted her for three years in California, where she returned to the piano as a familiar source of support.  During this traverse of cultures and languages, she mulled entering a conservatory to seriously pursue music.  However, on her return to Japan as a young teen, Yoshihara’s self-identity transformed from “the girl who plays piano well” to “the girl who speaks English like an American.” 

As her intellectual prowess and political consciousness emerged, she veered off the musical path and enrolled at the elite University of Tokyo to earn a bachelor’s degree in American Studies.  Yoshihara pursued graduate studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, before garnering a teaching post at UH Mānoa in 1997. It was during graduate school that Yoshihara got a spinet, a small upright piano, and started playing occasionally. “By light of day, I was a liberal intellectual critiquing cultural imperialism,” she mused, “and in the dark of night, I would commune with dead white European men like Chopin and Rachmaninoff.”

Her professorial duties left little time for tickling the ivories until 2003, when Yoshihara integrated her previously separated proclivities for music and academia.  When not in the classroom, she wrote books on classical music, and again took up piano lessons under the tutelage of UH Mānoa Music Professor Thomas Yee.   

Then she learned about the Van Cliburn International Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, a prestigious annual contest open to 72 amateur pianists who were ages 35 or older.  Yoshihara decided to enter the 2011 event, believing such a lofty goal would push her to practice more systematically and aspire to a higher level of musicianship.  “For the several months leading up to the audition recording, I practiced about two or three hours a day.  Between the time that I learned I was accepted in late March 2011 and the May 23-29 competition itself, I averaged four hours a day.”

On taking the stage at Texas Christian University, Yoshihara recalls early nervousness, a brief memory lapse in the first of three pieces, and then a blissful blur.  “The instrument—a Hamburg Steinway D—was so wonderful that it was a sheer pleasure just experiencing the sound that came from touching it.” While hers may not have been a performance on par with other competitors, some of whom had degrees from Juilliard and the New England Conservatory, Yoshihara notes, “Alas, that is life! But just meeting and playing alongside all those people who were dedicated to music while living very full lives was truly a precious experience.  Everyone at Cliburn played with such love and character in addition to amazing technical proficiency.”

Yoshihara may not have won the race that day, but she certainly crossed the finish line on a marathon runner’s high. To view a video of her performance, see the website at  Contact Yoshihara at