SA: $11M in federal grants for Native Hawaiian college students, programs (10/9/21)

Jayna Omaye, $11M in federal grants awarded to help support Native Hawaiian college students, programs, Star-Advertiser, 9 Oct. 2021.

Twenty-two grants totaling $11 million will help new and ongoing efforts to support Native Hawaiian college students and Indigenous higher-education programs statewide, officials say.

Through the U.S. Department of Education and the federal Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions program, grants were awarded to nine of the 10 University of Hawaii campuses, as well as Chaminade and Hawaii Pacific universities, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono’s office announced Wednesday.

At UH Maui College, Ben Guerrero, student success coordinator, said they will use the $550,000 awarded this year for creating a Native Hawaiian center on campus. The funding is part of a larger five-year grant totaling about $2.75 million. The college currently has an open hale that officials plan to renovate and transform into a center for Native Hawaiian students, their families and community members.

The long-term goal, Guerrero said, is for the center to become a gathering place for the larger Native Hawaiian community on and off campus. They plan to use the funds for renovating the space and paying for professional development and training of faculty and staff.

UH Maui College was also awarded two other grants.

“It’s just the beginnings of having a cultural and physical space that gives Native Hawaiian students a stronger connection to the campus, a sense of belonging and one that will allow them to explore their identity. We feel that’s integral to them staying in college and succeeding,” he said. “If you think about it as an ohana, you have several generations. If you have a Native Hawaiian center and there are more activities, people will take ownership of it.”

Gail Makuakane-Lundin, director of UH Hilo’s Kipuka Native Hawaiian Student Center, said they also plan to use the three grants they received to help Native Hawaiian students feel more connected. Two of the grant projects will create new place-based learning classes and activities that help Indigenous students understand the cultural significance of Hawaii island and feel more connected to their cultural heritage, she said.

Both courses, one offered at UH Hilo and the other through a partnership with Hawaii Community College, will take students into the community to learn about an area’s history, culture and heritage through longtime community members.

“In Hawaiian culture, place and aina is really important. What we’ve learned is that the more that students know about this place, including non-native students, their four or five years at UH Hilo makes them more connected,” Makuakane-Lundin said. “Let’s say we take them up to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. It’s not just being tourists, but you actually learn about history and culture of these places from people who have connections to these areas.”

The projects are part of two larger five-year grants totaling about $5.6 million. Makuakane-Lundin said funds will be used for hiring new staff and peer mentors, paying faculty to teach the new courses, organizing new activities and renovating existing spaces to accommodate more students.

At UH West Oahu, Walter Kahumoku, executive assistant to the chancellor, said the $600,000 grant they were awarded will be used for a new partnership with Windward Community College’s Hawaiiloa program, an online associate’s degree launched a few years ago. The first cohort of Hawaiiloa students is expected to graduate in spring 2022, so Kahumoku said they are creating a pathway for those students who want to earn a bachelor’s degree to easily transition to UH West Oahu.

Kahumoku said many of these students prefer a smaller education setting, which UH West Oahu can provide, rather than the larger UH Manoa campus. Nearly half of the students enrolled in WCC’s Hawaiiloa program also live on the mainland, he said, so the partnership helps to support Native Hawaiians who live here as well as those who don’t reside in the islands.

“Given that separation from the islands and homeland, we’re seeing so much more interest by these Native Hawaiians to connect back to home and to learn more about their heritage and identity as Hawaiians,” Kahumoku said. “I think they also want to parlay those connections in other fields. It’s helping Hawaiians to be able to use Hawaiian ways of thinking, knowing and believing.”

He said there are some courses unique to UH West Oahu that incorporate Hawaiian culturally based practices into other fields. Kahumoku said they have recently hired UH West Oahu’s first professor who brings a cultural lens to applied math. Also, university officials are working with the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, he said, to adapt their health sciences program to incorporate culturally grounded practices.

They plan to hire more professors and also cover the cost of some upper-level courses at WCC so students don’t have to pay out-of-pocket.

In the UH System’s 10 campuses, about 20% of students are Native Hawaiian.

Shaun Moss, executive director of the Oceanic Institute of Hawaii Pacific University, said they are ramping up efforts to encourage more Native Hawaiian students to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. About 23% of HPU students are Native Hawaiian, 7% of whom are STEM majors.

The larger five-year grant, totaling about $550,000, with a little more than half allocated for the first year, will be used to develop aquaculture curriculum targeted to freshmen and sophomores with undeclared majors to hopefully get them hooked on STEM. They also plan to bring more of these students to the Oceanic Institute earlier on to work with scientists and get hands-on experience.

Moss said they will hire a Native Hawaiian liaison who will work with the institute’s staff and students and can also serve as a mentor. Funds will also be used to renovate the institute’s facilities as officials anticipate working with more students, as well as creating a new distance- learning lab.

“Aquaculture and Hawaii go hand in hand. The Hawaiian fishponds were very important to ancient Hawaiians,” Moss said. “It’s such a big part of the Hawaiian legacy. The cultural connection is critical here.”

Jayna Omaye covers ethnic and cultural affairs and is a corps member of Report for America, a national serv­ice organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under­covered issues and communities.

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