Persistence in the arts

Mako Yamamoto ’19 trades the HPA stage for Northwestern University

Mako Yamamoto '19 in Alice: A Wonderland Musical

What’s the connection between science and art? “The process of experimentation is similar,” says Mako Yamamoto ‘19, “You have to be creative. You can’t keep trying the same method over and over and expect something different. You have to keep pushing in order to get to ‘excellent.’”

Yamamoto has been pursuing excellence as a student and a performing artist from an early age. She began ballet at three and translated her love for dance into musical theater in elementary school. She came to HPA wanting to combine the arts with high academic standards. Because performing arts classes are built into the regular curriculum at HPA, she’s been able to take acting classes, as well as join co-curricular offerings in the musical theater.

Last November, Yamamoto gave an outstanding performance as Alice in the HPA production of “Alice: A Wonderland Musical,” and she’s appeared in numerous other productions. Recently, she combined her theatrical talents with academic prowess, winning the school-wide Shakespeare monologue competition, and going on to represent HPA in Honolulu.

The creativity and perseverance Mako honed on stage have served her well in pursuit of other interests, in particular, biotechnology. Like many HPA students, she chose to design an independent science research project, in this case sequencing the DNA of a carnivorous caterpillar native to Hawai‘i Island. A family friend, Dr. Stephen Montgomery, discovered this unique species in the 1980s. “I wondered what we’d find if I compared its DNA to that of a herbivorous caterpillar of the same genus,” she explains.

Mako amamoto 19

Finding samples proved a challenge: with Dr. Montgomery’s help, Yamamoto hiked through Hokukano ranch and braved a thunderstorm to find only two caterpillars, which were so small that they had to be “plumped up” before they could provide tissue samples. Throughout the project, she discovered that the scientific process truly is about trial and error, and what doesn’t work can give as important information as success.

Yamamoto found the tools and techniques she needed, along with ongoing advice, in her bio tech class with instructor Stephanie McDowell, as well as with instructor Tani Wright Cordova. “I’m grateful for their mentorship as women in science in each stage of the experiment,” she says.

Come fall, this budding actress-scientist will attend Northwestern University in their elite theater program, where she plans to concentrate in musical theater and minor in dance. Looking back on her HPA experience, she says time management skills have been equally important to developing skills as a rigorous scholar. She’s had to manage a busy schedule—classes, studying, rehearsals, voice lessons, studio hours, lab time. “You can’t be passive if you want a career in the arts,” she says. “Nothing is going to just land in your lap. You have to go after what you want!”