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G.E.A.R.U.P., Maui! helps youths seek education, job goals

KA‘ANA MANA‘O

G.E.A.R. U.P., Maui!

It is a federally funded grant program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, and it stands for Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. We are grateful to be a grantee and participating with our partners, Kalama and Maui Waena Intermediate schools and King Kekaulike and Maui High schools. The purpose is to guide a cohort of hundreds of students toward successful outcomes in both the higher education and professional goals — and this is important — that they set for themselves.

Sheron Leihuanani Bissen has been hard at work administering G.E.A.R.U.P. since last October. Career Days are an integral part of the program. So when all 300 8th-graders from Kalama Intermediate School descended on our campus one chilly morning last month, she was ready.

“This is Phase 1. We are starting the conversation. And the first thing I do every time is to take a Hawaiian value and integrate it into that conversation. For the Feb. 28th Kalama event, the Hawaiian value was ‘akamai’ (smart) so the title was Akamai Career Day at UH-MC. It’s a way to instill the culture into the experience from the moment they arrive,” explains Bissen.

There were 12 stations set up all over campus, based on what the students expressed interested in. More than two dozen mentors representing many professions — from firefighters to YouTubers, collegiate athletes to journalists — met with four groups of students over the course of the day. Our director of student life, Al Paschoal was one, and he invited Ginger Long to come home from Oahu to partner with him. Raised on Maui, Ginger played for the UH Wahine Volleyball team and the UH “Sandbows” Beach Volleyball team, earning NCAA All-Tournament Team recognition.

“She was one of, if not the most dedicated student athlete both in the classroom and on the court that I have ever had the pleasure of coaching over my 25 years,” Paschoal says. “Her constant drive to excel was rewarded with more than 50 college scholarship opportunities at the culmination of her prep career. The Kalama students were very receptive to the lesson we shared — an introduction to a growth mindset and overcoming challenges both in and out of the competitive arena.” 

“The overall goal,” says Bissen, “is to provide as many opportunities as possible for them to be able to pursue higher education. The more you know, the more the world is open to you regardless of what the definition of success is to you. And, of course, we’d love to have all of them be part of the legacy of the UH-Maui campus.”

Bissen graduated from this campus in 1979 when it was Maui Community College.

“I graduated from Baldwin High School, typical local girl,” she said. “I wanted to go into the military because my parents were vets. My father said no way. We couldn’t afford college for me — at that time tuition was $240. Someone told me about the Miss Maui Pageant so I entered and won. I got $300 — enough to pay for tuition and school supplies! — and a Caravelle watch and dinner for two at Kimo’s. I was also fortunate enough to win Miss Hawai’i and the scholarship that allowed me to finish my bachelor’s degree at UH-Manoa.”

“The point is there’s always a way to pursue education. And after that, there’s always a way to pursue your passion,” says Bissen.

Today, Bissen’s passion is G.E.A.R.U.P. MAUI.

“I wanted this job because it matters. My interpretation is that it’s my generation’s kuleana to build a bridge to the next generation. I think we can move the needle — I think we can take students from Upcountry or from Kahului and have them navigate their own way. Help the students find the resources so they can do what they believe they want to do.”

The entire cohort will be tracked all the way through the year after they graduate from high school. We think we’ll find plenty of big successes.

The meaningful G.E.A.R.

U.P. MAUI logo was designed by Maui artist Brian Cristofaro. You can see it and read the mana’o behind it as well as learning about the full range of services G.E.A.R.U.P. provides to students and their families by visiting maui.hawaii.edu/gearup/.

* 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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