Summer experiences


It’s been a busy and productive summer for more than 115 Maui high school students participating in Upward Bound and in GEAR UP’s Alaka’i Emerging Leaders Academy.

Upward Bound is a free, federally funded program for eligible high school students, those committed to being the first in their families to go to college. Its main goal is to instill the value of earning bachelor’s degrees. Sixty students attended this year’s six-week Summer Program, a full STEM-focused (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), problem-based learning experience.

Fifty-five others each received three college credits even though COVID protocols precluded classroom work or the entire group moving as a whole.

The students were divided into 11 groups and tasked with nothing less than designing innovative solution pathways towards mitigating climate change and building community resiliency in our islands.

“The topics included things like drought and fire, Hawaiian cultural land practices, regenerative farming, fish spawning, coral bleaching, plastic pollution, tropical storms and overtourism,” said Jana Wilkinson, the Director of Upward Bound. “Each group was paired with a community partner — for example, the Hawaiian cultural land practices group and the Paeloko Learning Center.”

By utilizing the “design-thinking process,” the students learn to empathize, come up with an idea, build a prototype and then share it with their community partners.

“What was new and exciting this year,” explained Wilkinson, “was the creation of a ‘maker’s space’ where students could use a 3-D printer, laser cutter, VR, drones.”

The students’ solutions were inspiring. The drought and fire group came up with the idea of using drones to drop seeds encased in an environmentally friendly material into hard-to-reach areas. They built and tested two prototypes.

The tropical storm group built a bioswale model to see if plants could stop runoff. Bioswales are stormwater runoff conveyance systems that provide an alternative to storm sewers. They improve water quality and can also be beneficial by infiltrating the first flush of stormwater runoff and filtering the large storm flows they convey.

Like everything else, GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) was impacted by the pandemic. The pilot tutoring project at King Kekaulike High School was switched to “virtual.” So was the Career College Fair. The silver lining in that, said Program Director Sheron Leihuanani Bissen, “is that the entire student bodies of the participating high schools were able to ‘attend’ (rather than just the class of 2024, the cohort we’re tracking). And as usual, our community really stepped up with athletes, lawyers, first responders and everyone in between taking part.”

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of GEAR UP this year was the summer’s six-week Alaka’i Emerging Leaders Academy . Fifty-five students took part and they all earned their first college credit. They were introduced to the Ka’ao framework and methodology which emphasizes building college strengths through culture. It was developed by Taupouri Tangaro of UH Hilo and Hawai’i Community College. It places students at the helm of their journeys. We believe using this as a foundation yields more successful outcomes for our students. It has four components:

• HUA — Why are you here, what is your overall goal?

• HA’ALELE — What are you going to do to get ready and with whom?

• HUAKA’I — (the most difficult part) — What do you leave behind? Who do you leave behind? Who’s going to help you?

• HO’I — What are you going to give back to you community?

“This was the first time this concept was presented to high school students,” said Bissen.

Classroom work was made possible by breaking the students up into small groups and implementing health and safety protocols. The core, however, of the methodology and the thing that changed students from skeptics to true believers was the place-based learning, also made possible by working in small groups.

“They were all able to experience field trips to the Ko’ie’ie Fishpond in Kihei, Hui Wa’a a Kaulua in Lahaina, ‘Iao Valley and Kepaniwai, Makena, Queen Ka’ahumanu Church, Haleakala and Paeloko Learning Center,” said Bissen. “We believe this program helps better prepare and guide high school students to lead their lives successfully through the connectivity of Career, College and Culture.”

Both these programs prove that with many hands — “laulima” — including those of devoted teachers, staff, parents and community partners — even the challenges of COVID could be turned into opportunities for our youth.

To learn more about Upward Bound, please visit http://maui.hawaii.edu/upward/. To learn more about GEAR UP, please visit http://maui.hawaii.edu/gearup/. To learn about all programs at UH-Maui College, please visit https://maui.hawaii.edu/. The deadline for fall 2021 registration is Aug. 1; classes start Aug. 23.

* Dr. 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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