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Culinary Arts Program scholarship recipients share their stories

KA‘ANA MANA‘O

You may recall a news story in May about several Culinary Arts Program scholarships being offered by an extremely generous anonymous donor. The purpose is to assist students in completing the program with an associate’s degree in culinary arts or baking. The funds — $5,000 per year, renewable with good grades — are to be used for costs associated with attendance (tuition, books, fees, uniforms, tools). Recipients must be enrolled full-time, maintain a GPA of at least 2.5, and have some degree of financial need. We’re thrilled to report that scholarships have been awarded to 10 very happy and tremendously grateful students.

We’d like to share some of their inspiring stories. You’ll see that passion for cooking, baking, and sharing food is a through line, much as it is for many of us, especially at this challenging time.

Kau’ilani Garso-Steward has always found solace in baking. “Whenever I picked up my whisk and created a delicious treat my troubles would literally melt away. I knew I had to make this my career.” she says. “I had to find financial assistance and, thankfully, saw the amazing opportunity to apply for the Ali’i Scholarship. When I received the email starting with the word ‘Congratulations!’ I was speechless for a moment and then screamed with excitement! I would be able to pursue my dreams of becoming a baker without the worry of financial strain.” One day, she hopes to “open my dream bakery and share my wonderful treats for any who wishes to enjoy them.”

Think you have a lot on your plate? Thirty-seven-year-old Dawn “Kui” Hanks has five children and three hanai  children. She epitomizes everything we love about non-traditional students and life-long learners. “I have always enjoyed school. I believe when we gain knowledge, we gain personal growth,” she says. “I love receiving good grades because it means I am learning all I am offered and I feel a sense of accomplishment and purpose. The UH-MC culinary and baking program is an awesome experience.” 

Phrincess Jhuline Constantino studied robotics at Maui High. “You may be thinking, ‘how can someone jump from building a robot to cooking?’ My grandma was a big inspiration. Growing up, I was always next to her while she cooked with a huge smile on her face and lots of love,” she says.

Travel is another passion. “I’ve been down the West and East Coasts. New York City, Utah, Seattle, Boston are a few places I absolutely loved. I hope to travel the world and use my degree to get a  job as a chef in the tourism and hospitality industry. And although I can’t cook as well as my grandma, I will cook with lots of love just like she did.” 

“I started baking with my mom for family parties when I was just three years old,” says Briana Jade Valentin. “I gradually started to bake on my own in middle school and it skyrocketed in high school. I would bake all the cakes for my family’s parties, events and sometimes just for fun or as an experiment,” she says.

When she was notified about her Ali’i Scholarship, Briana was “absolutely thrilled and ecstatic. At first, it did not register so I just sent the email to my mom,” who was also so thankful. Her whole family is “absolutely loving and supportive of my (culinary) career choice. When I get my culinary degree I hope to work at a bakery to continue learning and then, I hope to open a dessert cafe of my own one day.”

“I woke up to the sound of my email notifications and thought I was still asleep,” says Mykaela Padron. She had to look twice before realizing she had been awarded an Ali’i Scholarship. “I am so grateful for this honor and thank everyone who has supported me this far. I will work hard these next two years and soak up as much knowledge as I can.”

Mykaela only recently became interested in culinary arts. “After working as a barista and learning more about coffee, I took an interest in the whole culinary world. I have followed many popular chefs, baristas, and bartenders on social media and I aspire to create works of art like they have. I have also taken an interest in culinary because everyone needs food and I hope to bring others comfort through my cooking.”

“My passion for culinary started when I was little,” says Kahiaulani Ramos, “while cooking and baking with my family. From cooking meals at home to being involved with parties and events, the food culture in my family has always played a big part in my life. Being able to take elective culinary classes at Baldwin High School also guided my career path in culinary.

“After college, I want to be a leading chef in a great community. I plan to volunteer and participate in community events. I am ever so grateful to my family, who  have been very supportive and motivating and to those who made this happen and for giving me this opportunity.”

The “Ali’i Scholars Fund” scholarships were administered through the UH Foundation. According to Jocelyn Romero Demirbag, our development director here on Maui, the name of the fund is significant. “The word ‘Ali’i’ is very special to the donor as is the Hawaiian culture. One could say they want to provide the very best opportunity to Maui’s students, one fit for a king!

“Donors open amazing doors by supporting scholarships,” says Demirbag. “They allow students who would struggle on their own or thought they would never have a chance at all to pursue higher education. Since UH-MC has both credit and non-credit programs, students can learn the skills to make a living wage on Maui. Scholarships can be endowed or not, and are a memorable way to honor a loved one.”

Please visit maui.hawaii.edu/culinary/ to learn about our Culinary Arts Program. The program was recently ranked No. 1 in the country by the U.S. Department of Education’s 2020 gradreports. The survey of the 25 best associate in culinary arts programs in the United States, is based on median starting salaries for graduates in their first year after college. The program was also the first in Hawaii to be accredited by the American Culinary Federation’s Education Foundation.

You can learn about all our program offerings at maui.hawaii.edu/programs-of-study. And please visit www.uhfoundation.org to learn more about supporting our college and our students. You can reach Development Director Jocelyn Romero Demirbag directly at Jocelyn.RomeroDemirbag@uhfoundation.org.

* Lui K. Hokoana is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. Ka’ana Mana’o, which means “sharing thoughts,” appears 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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