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UH-MC has commitment to sustainable campus, community

KA‘ANA MANA‘O

In 2018, UH President Lassner signed an executive policy with a clear, far-reaching, systemwide directive — to learn from the “rich foundation of indigenous Hawaiian cultural values and knowledge . . . to develop a uniquely strong response to climate change and sustainability challenges.” (You can read it here — www.hawaii.edu/policy/?action=viewPolicy&policySection=ep&policyChapter=4&policyNumber=202)

We’re pleased with our accomplishments — our Net Zero electricity project, eliminating plastic bottles from our campus, setting up water refill stations in many buildings, diverting food waste from the landfill to a local piggery, recycling used paper to suppress weeds in our ethnobotanical garden — and we have a long way to go. We’re committed to our efforts on campus and, perhaps even more importantly, to piloting our community’s way forward. We have an excellent staff member leading the charge.

It was a long and winding road that led Nicolette van der Lee to our door. Born in Pennsylvania, raised in Hong Kong, Indonesia and Singapore, she graduated from Dartmouth College. Her first jobs were in New York and Switzerland in international finance, and then web design and marketing. “When my son was born in 2009, I was inspired to work in education.” She, her son and her parents moved to Maui eight years ago. “My uncle raised his family here so when I lived in Asia we visited many times. The opportunity to move here and my interest in working in education came together at the right time.”

The international travel, the time spent living in foreign countries and multicultural communities rounded out her formal education and formed her professional foundation. And it reinforced her strong advocacy for lifelong learning.

“My first job here was a workforce development project through a U.S. Department of Labor grant. I was able to meet many faculty and staff members and work with lots of different teams. We developed training in agriculture, energy and health care. It was an amazing introduction into all the ways this college can support our community in terms of exploring new career pathways and giving folks new skills to advance their current careers.”

Several additional grant projects preceded her current position as program coordinator for the Sustainable Living Institute of Maui (SLIM) at the Office of Extended Learning & Workforce Development. Her experience in team-building is a particular asset. SLIM thrives on partnerships. And the impact our college can have on our community is always top of mind for her.

“We’ve designed programs around the statewide ‘Aloha+ Challenge’ and its six initiatives — clean energy, natural resource management, smart sustainable communities, waste reduction, green workforce + education and local food. For example, we recently ran a course on a sustainable building method called ‘The Cobb Earth Oven Workshops.’ Basically, it’s creating bricks from the soil and sand anyone would have on site. We partnered with La Kahea Research Station to host the training on site.

“We also partner with Hawai’i Farmers Union United (the fastest growing union in the U.S.) to offer an intensive, six-month farm apprentice mentoring program. We have more than 30 apprentices right now from all over Maui, including Hana. We’ve even integrated the use of ZOOM (video conferencing service) so students can call in to classes from anywhere.

“We offer an industry-recognized Building Operators certification through the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council. It trains engineering teams and facilities managers — mostly from our resorts — to improve their operational efficiencies in energy, procurement practices, water and waste resources management. Hawai’i Energy sponsors most of the tuition and in many cases, employers pay the balance.”

And there’s plenty more — introducing grade schoolers to aquaponics, Career Hi-Ways to encourage and prepare high school students from low-income and underserved demographics for college degrees and in-demand careers, and a partnership with Hui No Ke Ola Pono to offer industry certifications in health care, agriculture and lomilomi massage.

Take a good look at the beautiful, newly redesigned course catalog now called Ho’ala that arrives in your mailbox three times a year. There are so many ways for you to join in. “It’s really about serving lifelong learners,” emphasizes Nicolette. She’s one of them. “I’m not from here, but if I try to come with humility, with a desire to understand and to seek out the indigenous knowledge that can lead us to a modern understanding of sustainability — learn from the past and together develop what the future will be.”

To learn more about Sustainable Living Institute of Maui visit sustainablemaui.org/programs-projects/ and our Sustainable Science Management program found at maui.hawaii.edu/ssm/.

* Lui K. Hokoana is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. Ka’ana Mana’o, which means “sharing thoughts,” is scheduled to appear on the fourth Saturday 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.

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