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Six recipients of prestigious scholarships express gratitude, desire to succeed

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Six recipients of prestigious scholarships express gratitude, desire to succeed

Clockwise from top left: Regents Scholar Joshua Bourns; Presidential Scholar Alejandra Ramirez; and Chancellor’s Scholars Amirah Shyla Abella, Cleary Kaahanui, Carley Matsumura, and Taylor-Ann Okimoto. Image courtesy of UHWO Staff

Congratulations to six University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu students, recipients of the prestigious UH Regents, UH Presidential, and UH West Oʻahu Chancellor’s scholarships.

The recipients are Regents Scholar Joshua Bourns; Presidential Scholar Alejandra Guadalupe Ramirez; and Chancellor’s Scholars Amirah Shyla Hernandez Abella, Cleary Z. Kaahanui, Carley Matsumura, and Taylor-Ann Kanani Okimoto.

“This scholarship has given me the opportunity to focus on my academics so that I can truly excel,” said Chancellor’s Scholar Abella. “It gives me the drive to continue to work hard throughout college to pursue my dream of becoming successful so I can give back to my family and my community.”

Each recipient similarly shared a continued desire to succeed, as well as a deep appreciation for the opportunities bestowed upon them. Learn more about the students and the scholarships they received:

Regents Scholarships support Hawaiʻi high school resident students with a record of outstanding academic achievement. Regents Scholars receive a full tuition waiver for four years of undergraduate study, $4,000 a year, and a one-time travel grant of $2,000. Regents Scholarships are awarded to outstanding freshmen who receive a SAT total score of at least 1340 or ACT combined score of at least 29, maintain at least a 3.5 GPA in academic subjects in high school, and whose extracurricular achievements are shown to be remarkable.

Regents Scholar Joshua Bourns

Joshua Bourns

Information Security and Assurance major Joshua Bourns said he is honored to receive the Regents Scholarship.

“This scholarship means that all the hard work that I have put in paid off, but I still need the same level of dedication going forward,” he said.

Bourns, who calls Tokyo his hometown, grew up in different places and eventually graduated from Pearl City High School. Among the factors he said helped lead him to where he is today as a student: competing with his older brother for higher grades and test scores, along with his parents constantly pushing them to do their best.

“I chose to attend UH West Oʻahu because they have a good program for my specific degree and also because of the university’s location, being close to my home,” Bourns said.

He added: “With my degree, I plan to make a career in the cybersecurity field and want to thank UH West Oʻahu for bringing me one step closer to that goal.”


Presidential Scholarships support students with a record of outstanding academic achievement. Presidential Scholars receive a full tuition waiver for two years of undergraduate study, $4,000 a year, and a one-time travel grant of $2,000. The Presidential Scholarship is awarded to one UH System community college junior who has a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.7 for all college-level work, a record of sustained progress in academic courses, and evidence of superior academic achievement or creative endeavor. Presidential Scholarships focus on supporting the transfer of UH System community college students to UH baccalaureate campuses as juniors.

Presidential Scholar Alejandra Guadalupe Ramirez

Alejandra Ramirez

Alejandra Guadalupe Ramirez, from Wailuku, said she feels very grateful and lucky for receiving the Presidential Scholarship.

“Without it, I am not sure if I would have been able to attend UH West Oʻahu, especially during difficult times like these,” she said.

Ramirez graduated from H.P. Baldwin High School in 2017 and recently graduated from the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College with her associate degree in Liberal Arts as well as Administration Justice.

“I had the opportunity to intern at the County of Maui Prosecutor’s Office,” she said. “Both internship experience and volunteer work pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and made me into the student I am today.”

Ramirez said she chose to attend UH West Oʻahu because she wanted to continue studying Justice Administration and because of the university’s Distance Learning program. She is majoring in Public Administration with a concentration in Justice Administration.

“This scholarship means so much to me,” Ramirez said. “My hard work has paid off but it is also a new beginning for me.”

The Presidential Scholarship has created opportunities for Ramirez to grow academically and as a person, she said, adding that it will help her reach higher goals as well as improve her quality of life.

“It made me realize that I can achieve whatever I put my mind to,” Ramirez said. “I am forever grateful for having received this scholarship. I am also very grateful for my parents and all the support I have received from my professors, mentors, colleagues, and friends.”


The Chancellor’s Scholarship is an award that acknowledges academic achievement, leadership, and community service. The UH West Oʻahu Chancellor’s Scholarship is valued at $7,344 ($3,672/semester) and was awarded to high-achieving high school graduates entering UH West Oʻahu for the 2020-2021 academic year. Recipients of the UH West O’ahu Chancellor’s Scholarship are required to serve as UH West O’ahu Student Representatives. The Chancellor’s Scholarship is awarded to Hawaiʻi high school resident graduates with a 3.5 cumulative GPA and evidence of academic achievement, leadership, and community service.

Chancellor’s Scholar Amirah Shyla Hernandez Abella

Amirah Shyla Abella

When Amirah Shyla Hernandez Abella received her award letter for the Chancellor’s Scholarship, her initial reaction was shock, she recalled, because she knew there were many other deserving students who applied for the same scholarship.

“I also felt a huge relief, as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, to know my mom didn‘t need to pay my tuition,” said the Waipahu resident and Waipahu High School graduate. “I am humbled to know that my hard work, perseverance, and determination did not go unnoticed. I am so honored and extremely grateful to receive the Chancellor’s Scholarship.”

Abella, who is now pursuing a degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Management, recalled the challenges she experienced during her last year in high school.

“In senior year, I had to balance academics, clubs, dance, my first job, and a social life,” she said. “I learned to prioritize what was most significant and beneficial to me, my family, and my future.”

Then the pandemic hit and it impacted everyone — socially and economically, she said.

“Class of 2020 didn’t get to go to prom and didn’t get to experience the traditional high school graduation,” Abella said. “Despite this, it put things into perspective for me. I had my family and we had our health and that’s what was most important.”

Abella said she decided to attend UH West Oʻahu because she took some early college courses on campus and each time she visited, she felt a sense of belonging.

“Everyone here is just so helpful and kind and the atmosphere is very welcoming,” she said. “When it was time to make a decision, I knew I would be proud to call UH West Oʻahu my home campus.”

Abella added: “I’d like to thank God and my family for their love and support, and last but not least, my mom and grandma for always believing in me.”


Chancellor’s Scholar Cleary Z. Kaahanui

Cleary Kaahanui

Throughout all of her school years, Cleary Z. Kaahanui tried her best to get good grades while balancing a school, community, and social life.

When she applied for the Chancellor’s Scholarship, she thought getting it would be a “longshot” as countless other students like her would also apply.

“I was so surprised when I found out that I received the scholarship,” said the Makakilo native and Kapolei High School graduate. “It seemed surreal, but once I accepted it, I was ecstatic.”

Kaahanui said the scholarship truly means a lot to her.

“This year has been really tough for my mom and I, and we are both so appreciative of this scholarship for taking a huge burden off of our shoulders in these trying times,” said Kaahanui, who added that she recently got out of a “toxic environment,” bettering her quality of life.

She describes herself as a student who gives her all: “I always believed that you get out what you put in. Although I can be clueless and clumsy sometimes, I give my all in everything I do.”

Now Kaahanui is pursuing a degree in Education with a concentration in Secondary Education/Math at UH West Oʻahu, her ultimate choice because of the school’s proximity to home and its tuition compared to other universities she was considering.

“I had also already taken early college courses from West Oʻahu, so I was familiar with the campus and the amount of support the staff gives to their students,” Kaahanui said. “The atmosphere makes you feel like you are part of one big family, and I love that.”

Kaahanui said she wanted to make sure to express her appreciation to all the amazing people who have helped her put her life on a course for the better.

“A few people who absolutely need mentioning are Ms. Camille, Kainoa, Wela, Lyza, the Noʻeau Center and tutors, INPEACE, all teachers I’ve had both in and out of the classroom, and all the wonderful friends I’ve made along the way.

“I’d also like to put a special thanks out there to the Office of Admissions and the Chancellor for this wonderful opportunity you’ve given me,” Kaahanui said. “I will always keep trying my best in everything I do.”


Chancellor’s Scholar Carley Matsumura

Carley Matsumura

Hawaiʻi Technology Academy graduate Carley Matsumura is “super appreciative” about receiving the Chancellor’s Scholarship, she said, and was excited to share the news with family and friends.

“This scholarship means my family and I don’t have to worry about tuition costs for the first year, which is a huge relief,” said Matsumura, of Mililani. “The award is also a nice recognition of my academic hard work and efforts in high school.”

Matsumura is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Creative Media with a concentration in Communication and New Media Technology.

“I chose to attend UH West Oʻahu because I was looking through their programs of study and was drawn to the Creative Media program classes,” she said. “I thought it would be a good fit for me since I like to create with artistic outlets. Plus, I heard good things about their Creative Media program.”

Matsumura shared that as a student, two challenges she has constantly struggled with are procrastination and poor time management.

“Those problems of my own making have led to so much unnecessary stress,” she said. “I’ve gotten better at handling it by using alarms, calendars and schedules, to-do lists, and lots and lots of will-power.”

She considers the successes and personal accomplishments she achieved during her last year of high school to be significant to where and how she is now.

“My main focus had always been on school, but I decided to get involved with my interests and try new things for my senior year,” she said. “I joined the prom committee — although sadly, we weren’t able to see our creation, applied to and was accepted into the National Honor Society, spent more time volunteering, and worked for an after-school program through an internship.”

She continued: “These experiences were fulfilling and sparked this simple, freeing revelation that if I want to do something instead of making excuses or being scared, I should go after it and make the effort, take the chance, and just try. It would be better to know than wonder about what could have been.”

Matsumura reflected on the past year and how it has been a struggle as everyone adapts to a new normal.

“But I’m grateful to have gained a new perspective and understanding,“ she said. “Lately, when it comes to milestone moments or any other certain set expectations in my mind, instead of holding onto them and being disappointed when things don’t go according to plan, I’ve been overcoming this by letting go and being more open to accepting change so I can still enjoy the outcome of what happens.”


Chancellor’s Scholar Taylor-Ann Kanani Okimoto

Taylor-Ann Okimoto

Taylor-Ann Kanani Okimoto, a Mililani resident and Mililani High School graduate, is majoring in Secondary Education at UH West Oʻahu.

Okimoto said she is thankful to have been chosen as a recipient of the Chancellor’s Scholarship, which is allowing her to continue her education to help her achieve her career goal of becoming a teacher.

“The scholarship is also a huge blessing financially, especially during this unprecedented global pandemic,” she said. “Both my mother and father have been impacted due to the economic crisis of COVID-19.”

Okimoto said she chose UH West Oʻahu because she felt there was a welcoming community of students and staff.

“After visiting the campus, it was clear to me that UH West Oʻahu was the best fit for my educational goals,” she said. “As an incoming college freshmen, I want to be more than a student ID number. I want to be a contributing member of a university community of amazing people, which I believe UH West Oʻahu represents.”

Okimoto noted that a significant challenge that has led to who she is today was overcoming her self-doubt and lack of self-confidence.

“I was very shy and lacked self-confidence growing up through elementary and middle school,” she said. “Fortunately, I blossomed into the person I am today, thanks to my participation in student government at Mililani High School and at summer camp as a leader-in-training for YMCA Camp Erdman.”

Both experiences allowed Okimoto to get out of her comfort zone and gave her opportunities to lead. Okimoto said this ultimately led to building her character, increased her self-confidence, and developed her leadership skills.

“Through the many challenges I had to overcome and celebrations of achievement, I found my passion for helping others,” Okimoto said. “My dream of becoming a teacher and inspiring high school students like I was inspired is one step closer thanks to this prestigious scholarship.”

Image courtesy of erinjkim