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Music and dental hygiene instructors at UH Maui College awarded for excellence

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UH Maui College’s faculty members Joseph Keola Donaghy (left) and Kevin Omuro received top teaching awards. Photos Courtesy: UH

Twenty-three faculty members at the University of Hawaiʻi have received top awards for their inspirational teaching and world-class research, including two teachers from UH Maui College.

“Our world-class faculty are the heart of UH,” said UH President David Lassner. “Every day they inspire our students as they model excellence in scholarship and engagement both inside and outside of the classroom to improve lives across our islands.”

The honorees from UH Maui College:

Kevin Omuro, a lecturer in dental hygiene, was awarded the Regents’ Medal of Excellence in Teaching, which recognizes faculty who exhibit an extraordinary level of subject mastery and scholarship, teaching effectiveness and creativity, and personal values beneficial to students.


Joseph Keola Donaghy, assistant professor of music and faculty coordinator for the Institute of Hawaiian Music received the Frances Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. It was established as a memorial to the late Frances Davis, who taught mathematics at Leeward Community College and UH Mānoa for 19 years.

Omuro is a licensed dentist who has been practicing in Hawaiʻi since 1986. As a lecturer, Omuro has taught many classes at UH Maui College, including oral histology and embryology; pathology in dental hygiene and special patient populations; oral pathology in dental hygiene; applied pharmacology in dentistry; and clinical dental hygiene.

Omuro’s passion is helping his students learn and watching them grow. He is always trying new ways to make his classes exciting and interesting. Omuro’s students and colleagues commend him on his patience and commitment to helping students become the best hygienists they can be.

One student said: “Dr. Omuro not only shows passion for teaching but has a drive to provide real world application for his students to strive in their careers. He goes above and beyond.”


Another student said: “He’s very understanding that we are all new to this… He teaches very hard subjects in a way that makes us understand them so easily.”

The other UH honorees of the Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Teaching:

  • Troy Andrade, associate professor, William S. Richardson School of Law, UH Mānoa
  • Daniel Harris-McCoy, associate professor of classics, College of Arts, Languages & Letters, UH Mānoa
  • Laurie James, associate professor of math education, UH West Oʻahu
  • Peiling Kao, associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, College of Arts, Languages & Letters, UH Mānoa
  • Drew Kapp, instructor of social sciences, Hawai‘i Community College
  • Bryan Kim, chair of the division of social sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, UH Hilo 
  • Duke I. Lang, carpentry instructor, Kaua‘i Community College
  • Kyra Anne Len, associate professor of medical education and pediatrics, John A. Burns School of Medicine, UH Mānoa
  • Alyssa MacDonald, assistant professor in biology, Leeward Community College
  • Gabriel David Peckham, instructor, Honolulu Community College
  • Bridget Smith-Konter, professor of geophysics in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, UH Mānoa
  • Kevin Takayama, mathematics instructor, Windward Community College
  • Bennett Zazzera, instructor and program director of the physical therapist assistant program, Kapiʻolani Community College 
  • Wei Zhang, professor in the Department of Sociology, College of Social Sciences, UH Mānoa 

Donaghy serves as UH Maui College’s faculty coordinator for the Institute of Hawaiian Music, which mentors and trains aspiring musicians in performing, singing, composition, recording techniques and marketing of Hawaiian music. Students are guided from the beginning of their musical training to their career debut.

Donaghy is passionate about Hawaiian music and has worked with students to produce albums, which has earned him a Nā Hōkū Hanohano award as producer of the compilation EP “He Lani Ko Luna, He Honua Ko Lalo.” He is accomplished in the Hawaiian music industry, serving as a member of the Board of Governors of the Hawaiʻi Academy of Recording Arts.


He is linguistically accomplished in Hawaiian, Te Reo Māori and Irish Gaelic. Donaghy also developed the Hawaiian keyboard and recently developed and released Hulihua—a Hawaiian clone of the popular Wordle game.

One of his colleagues wrote: “His work in mentoring the next generation of musicians and giving students a pathway to utilize and embrace their talents as a musician is notable and should be celebrated.”

The other honorees for the Frances Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching:

  • Hoa Le, PhD candidate in the Second Language Studies Department, College of Arts, Languages & Letters, UH Mānoa
  • Brent Kawika Rubio, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Honolulu Community College
  • Tarisi Vunidilo, assistant professor in anthropology, UH Hilo
  • Justin Walguarnery, assistant professor of biology, School of Life Sciences, UH Mānoa

The Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Research recognizes a faculty member’s scholarly contributions that expand the boundaries of knowledge and enrich the lives of all in the community, nation and the world. The UH honorees:

  • Brian N. Popp, professor of Earth sciences in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, UH Mānoa
  • Rui Sun, assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences, UH Mānoa
  • Xudong Sun, assistant astronomer in the Institute for Astronomy, UH Mānoa

The Masaki and Momoe Kunimoto Memorial Award for Outstanding Contributions to Vocational Education rewards outstanding achievement and significant contribution to vocational and technical education by a community college faculty member or student. The award was established by family members to honor the namesakes’ role in development of the food industry in Hawai‘i. This year’s winner:

  • Brian Yamamoto, faculty in the Natural Science Program, Kaua‘i Community College

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