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UH West Oʻahu part of effort to encourage Pacific Islander students to go to college

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First row: Felila Misi, Elisa Lina Simi, Hemrina Kejmen, Elena Maamaloa, Laninbwij Nelson, Joshua Berdon. Second row: Kiu-Me Nani John, Kcjalani Francis, Meri Eram, Suchuka Wesly, Vangiclynn Tuese, Elizabeth Tuese. Third row: Shanty Asher, Eola Lokebol, Keith Hayashi, Skye Yasuda, Jeremiah Brown, Steven De Silva, Mark Silliman, Marirose Daproza, Jean Sandy Villanueva, Czarina Galario, Tina Tauasosi Posiulai, Jeffrey Moniz, Leanne Aira Villanueva, Alan Rosenfeld. Image courtesy of Skye Yasuda

Pacific Islander high schoolers in an Early College program whose core curriculum was developed in partnership with the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu were honored last month at a graduation ceremony for completing their first Early College course. The event is part of a larger effort to introduce college opportunities to and boost the confidence of Pacific Islander students, who are underrepresented in higher education.

The McInerny Foundation Early College Program at Waipahu High School hosted a graduation ceremony on June 15 to celebrate the accomplishments of the inaugural Early College Explorers (ECE) cohort, comprising 13 Pacific Islander students.

“We hope that this first cohort of Early College Explorers will serve as trailblazers that will stimulate interest in higher education within their classmates, and expand the educational opportunities for future Pacific Islander students,” a statement released by program officials said.

The ECE Program started with a discussion about the Pacific Islander community, which consists of students from Micronesian, Samoan, and Tongan backgrounds, and how these ethnic groups are grossly underrepresented in higher education, according to program officials.

It is the program’s hope that by exposing Pacific Islander students to college opportunities, it will boost their confidence, increase their grit and determination, as well as prepare them for their post-high school educational goals.

At last month’s graduation ceremony, the 13 students were honored for completing their first Early College course, Student Development 100 (SD 100). The course is designed to educate students on how to succeed at the university, develop a better understanding of the learning process, and acquire academic skills and knowledge essential for success in college and in life.

“I took this course because I want to see what they (college) can provide for us students,” said Joshua Berdon, an ECE student.

Joshua said he started the SD 100 class with concerns and questions about how to succeed in college.

“My questions were answered by counselors from UH West Oʻahu and Leeward Community College,” Joshua said. “During the course, I learned things like the expectations going to college and also scholarships.”

He continued, “I was scared about college before taking this class because I didn’t know what to do in college. But after this class, it release less fear and helped me understand a little bit more about college.”

The graduation ceremony featured student speakers, as well as cultural dancing and singing performed by students. Event guests included UH West Oʻahu Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Moniz, UH West Oʻahu Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Alan Rosenfeld, Waipahu High School Principal Keith Hayashi (who will be interim Superintendent of the Hawaiʻi Department of Education), Pacific Islander Community Advocate Shanty Asher, Waipahu High School Early College Director Garyn Tsuru, and SD 100 Instructor/Waipahu High School Teacher Marirose Daproza.

The core curriculum of the ECE was developed in partnership with UH West Oʻahu. Following the students’ completion of Student Development 100, they will continue through the program in Summer Session II and take English 100E. This Fall, the ECE students will enroll in Pacific Studies 108.