Program prepares eligible high school students for college


On July 5, seven groups composed of 25 high school students presented the results of their six-week summer project — Project STEMulate — to a panel of judges made up of University of Hawaii administrators and STEM professionals. Their project was nothing less than trying to figure out ways to get Maui to Energy Net Zero (all energy consumed comes from renewable resources like solar or wind) by 2045, the state target set by Gov. David Ige.

Each student group became expert on its topic, ranging from building more efficient solar cells to getting community buy-in to renewable energy, even to converting human waste into biofuel. This component of Upward Bound is designed to give students experience in problem-based learning, a critically important skill for college students. It also earns each student college credit.

In all, 86 students just completed the summer 2018 component of Upward Bound. (The summer component also includes a Mainland college tour. This year, 40 students went on the trip to Portland, Ore., and surrounding environs.) The program, which is completely free, prepares eligible low-income, first-generation high school students for college. You may recall that last year we were awarded a new federal grant allowing an increase of four target high schools and 60 additional students.

We also introduced you to program director Jana Wilkinson. “I’m happy to report that we’ve fulfilled our target number for the grant — 265 students up from 205 in 2017,” says Wilkinson, “and we are now recruiting to fill the spots of the graduated seniors.”

This year, we’d like to introduce you to two outstanding graduates, both college bound. Tyler Christian Baraoidan Kim is a high achiever. It was not always so. “I didn’t like school,” he says, “it wasn’t for me. And I certainly didn’t want to go to college.” But someone at the Boys & Girls Club recommended that he look into Upward Bound. He decided to give it a try in the summer after 8th grade. It has, literally, changed his life.

“It completely changed my mind,” he says. “College had never been described to me in a way that made me want to go. Even though you have to go to classes and work hard in the program, it’s always fun. The atmosphere is like one big family. You make friendships with people from other islands and other schools and those friendships last. Everyone was so nice, the tutoring services really helped me and I started to focus more and more on my GPA every year.”

And here’s the high achieving part. “Between freshman and sophomore year (at Baldwin High School), my GPA was really low. When I graduated in 2017, it was 3.5.”

And Kim has already completed two full semesters at University of Hawaii Maui College. He’s going for his associate degree in hospitality and tourism. We know there’s a great job waiting for him here on Maui or anywhere he decides to go when he graduates.

Wilkinson describes 2018 Upward Bound Leadership Program graduate Cassandra Ragonton as “an exceptional student since she started with us in 9th grade. The leadership program is charged with setting an example for both new and returning students. “We make sure that every new student is included,” says Ragonton.

Born in the Philippines, she moved with her family to Molokai when she was 9. She loves everything about Upward Bound — the variety of activities and classes, the inclusion of Hawaiian culture. And “dorming.”

“The Molokai kids live in the dorm and you meet new people every year.” (She especially liked going to Foodland every Monday to stock the dorm!)

Ragonton — along with her best friend and fellow Upward Bound graduate Cyra Ramos from Maui — are both heading to Grand Canyon University in Arizona next month. “I’m going to major in psychology,” she says. “I hope to stay for all four years and then come back to Molokai. I’m concerned about the suicide rate so I’d like to open a practice that focuses on suicide prevention.”

We are surely as proud of her as her hardworking family is.

Upward Bound is sponsored by UH-MC with funding provided by the U.S. Department of Education. We are accepting applications for 2018/19. For complete information, please visit

* Lui K. Hokoana, Ph.D., is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. “Ka’ana Mana’o,” which means “Sharing Thoughts,” appears on the fourth Sunday of each month. It is prepared with assistance from UH-Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.