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Native Hawaiian high school students get a taste of college during UH summer program

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High schools students in the Nā Pua Noʻeau UH Mānoa summer program participated in a variety of cultural and STEAM-related learning. Photos Courtesy: UH Mānoa

To increase the number of Native Hawaiians who attend and graduate from the University of Hawaiʻi, Nā Pua Noʻeau UH Mānoa hosted a free residential summer program for 18 high school students from across Hawaiʻi and the continental United States.

The 12-day summer institute engaged students in interactive STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) learning rooted in cultural identity. 

Kinohi Gomes, director at Nā Pua Noʻeau (NPN) UH Mānoa, said the intensive summer program gave the students “a taste of what the higher education experience is like, to be in particular departments and places and spaces at the university so that if and when they make that decision to pursue higher education they’re like, ‘Ok! I’ve been here before. I feel comfortable.ʻ”

NPN immersed haumāna (students) in daily cultural protocol such as hula, oli (chant) and activities grounded in mālama ʻāina (caring for the land). Students are also teamed up with STEM majors at UH who mentor them in educational hands-on activities, such as robotics, computer building and coding. 

“It’s all about bridging the past with the present,” Gomes said.

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He added that the program provided students with a cultural foundation and lets them know they can ” interweave technology as a proud Hawaiian in whatever educational and career pathways that they want to pursue.

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A program participant, Hawaiʻi Island native Deion Peʻa-Whitney, 18, recently graduated from Ke Kula ʻo Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu, a Hawaiian language immersion charter school. He would like to pursue electrical engineering at UH Mānoa.

Whitney said: “He kanaka hana ʻāina wau, no laila, no koʻu mau lima he ʻano ikaika. No kēia papa, ua aʻo wau e pili ana i ka palekana, ka hoʻomanawa nui me ka ʻenehana.”

The translation: “I usually work with the ʻāina, and it requires a lot of strength in my hands. Today, I learned how I have to be fragile since this is technology. It could easily break. I had to learn to be patient with technology and be comfortable with it.”

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NPN, which is part of the campus’ Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge and Native Hawaiian Student Services, has run programs for students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade since 1989. Centers are stationed at UH Mānoa, UH Hilo, UH Maui College, Kauaʻi Community College and UH West Oʻahu.

NPN provides haumāna of all ages and their ʻohana a plethora of first-class learning opportunities ranging from visual and culinary arts, literacy and STEM aimed at providing direct access and a bridge between the community and higher education.

“Part of our equation is to include mentors, teachers, resources from both our university and the community that can allow and provide the bigger picture of how technology and STEM can be such an easy streamlined opportunity for students that are looking at that as a possible career and educational pathway,” Gomes said. 

The Nā Pua Noʻeau UH Mānoa Summer Institute collaborated with the US Department of Education-Native Hawaiian education program, UH Mānoa Native Hawaiian Science and Engineering Mentorship Program, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, Kamehameha Schools and Project Kuleana.

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