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July 26, 2023
  • Paipai o Ko‘olau graduates

Ten years ago, Kekai Edayan, one of 50 in Paipai o Ko‘olau’s first student cohort, took tentative steps onto the Windward Community College campus in a return to school after some time away. “I knew it was time to come back, but I come from a really big family,” he says, “and finances were a serious obstacle.”

Paipai o Ko‘olau provided academic, personal, and financial support through his first two semesters, equipping him with tools and understanding for the educational journey, and today he is the Human Resources Manager at Mauna Kea Resort in Kawaihae on Hawaiʻi Island with a master’s degree in human resources management from UH Mānoa’s Schidler College of Business.

Edayan says, “Paipai helped me to establish strong educational study practices, build support groups, and navigate the stressors of college transitions from community college to four-year university, which is my equation for obtaining three degrees along the way! Mahalo to Sarah Akina and the Paipai o Ko‘olau ‘ohana.”

10 years of student success

  • 503 students in 10 cohorts
  • 160 students with 288 certificates or degrees
  • 49 bachelor’s degrees, 11 master’s degrees
  • Youngest student: 17 years
  • Oldest student: 69 years

No assumptions

For a decade, the 13th-year program at Windward CC has guided people like Edayan who didn’t think college was possible, says director Sarah Akina. “Students enter the program from all kinds of backgrounds, many of them without a traditional college-prep experience. Yet students keep proving, over and over, that grit is the quality with the most impact on success, and we can never assume we know a student’s limits or ceiling for accomplishment.”

One student entered the program with limited mobility, regained after his recently being paralyzed from the neck down.

“He didn’t have basic computer or college skills,” says Akina. “The second or third day on campus, he was furious about entering his username and password each time he logged into his email and online class resources, typing one letter at a time with his index fingers. But he felt connected to the program and to this campus. He enjoyed spending time with his classmates and was engaged in class discussions. When things got difficult – which they definitely did! – he came into my office and we’d figure out his next steps. He reached out to his support network and put in the work to overcome obstacles. Now, seven years later, he is on track to earn his master’s degree in social work.”

Building community; transforming communities

From the beginning, Windward CC envisioned each Paipai o Ko‘olau cohort supporting the cohorts following, with peer tutoring and personal encouragement. “They love reaching out to the new cohorts and helping them out,” says Akina. “You see it in our students: it’s part of who they are now. We really wanted this to happen, but this facet of the program has been successful beyond our imaginations. Paipai has truly become one big, mostly happy family, where students from completely different backgrounds at completely different stages of their lives bond and become support systems for one another.”

Kayla Galdeira is in her second year at Windward CC, a member of Paipai o Ko‘olau’s tenth, most recent cohort. “I applied for the program because it offered financial support for my first year’s tuition and support in anything school-related. The counselors and mentors have been so welcoming and willing to help, and they make it clear they just want to see me succeed. My hope is to offer my family stability, and to give back to my community.”

As students build community on campus, their success has an impact on Windward CC’s surrounding communities. Akina says higher education helps students and their entire families, making college an expectation where it once may not have been considered at all.

Akina says, “We have supported over 500 students, built out a sustainable infrastructure, and identified best-practices. With generous support from donors, we hope to triple that number in the next 10 years! We have already started to see the generational impact of this program: parents and their children, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles following nieces and nephews, and almost every other type of familial relationship where it only took one person trying college to start a movement in their ‘ohana. In our second decade, I hope to truly make Paipai o Koʻolau a movement in the community to make college attractive and attainable for everyone.”

Questions? / More Information

If you would like to learn how you can support UH students and programs like this, please contact us at 808-956-8700 or send us a message.