Before going up to Mauna Kea's summit on Hawaii's Big Island, Heather Kaluna makes an offering to Poliahu, the snow goddess of the mountain. She holds it sacred, as do other Native Hawaiians.

The mountain holds another important place in her life. Kaluna is poised to be the first Native Hawaiian to get an astronomy doctorate from the University of Hawaii.

The two aspects of her identity have collided as protests erupt over the construction of one of the world's largest telescopes atop the mountain.

For some, the telescope represents an opportunity to get Native Hawaiian children interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

In November, the telescope launched a fund that will contribute $1 million annually for the 19-year Mauna Kea sublease for STEM education.