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December 30, 2020
  • Debra and Arlen Prentice at an event in Montana

For Dr. Debra Prentice, giving back to the University of Hawai‘i during one of the most challenging years in recent memory is testament to her lifelong interest in anthropology, her commitment to academic research and a friendship standing the test of time.

Debra and her husband recently established the Debra and Arlen Prentice Research Fund for Pacific Island Archaeology and Anthropology. Housed at the UH Foundation, the fund supports research currently conducted by UH Mānoa anthropology professor Dr. Patrick Kirch—a longtime friend of Debra and Arlen Prentice. Their generous gift will provide support for a graduate research assistant and discretionary expenses so Dr. Kirch may concentrate fully on research for the next five years.


A history of friendship

Debra was a graduate student at Mānoa in the late 1970s when she met Patrick, who had just returned to Honolulu from research work in Tonga. While Debra’s research interest was Polynesian societies, Patrick focused on historical anthropology, particularly archaeological excavation work in the Pacific Islands.

Patrick, who was born and raised in Mānoa Valley, continued his work as a historical anthropologist and became one of the most respected in his field. His accolades are numerous and his research is prolific. Patrick’s career spanned many decades, from his apprenticeship at Bishop Museum, undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania, master’s and doctorate degrees from Yale University, to a longtime teaching career at the University of California, Berkeley. Recently, Patrick returned to the islands and joined the anthropology faculty as a professor at the College of Social Sciences at UH Mānoa in 2019.

Through it all, Debra’s appreciation and respect for Patrick’s research continued: “Although I left the field of anthropology in the late 80s and moved into the business world, I continue to follow Pat’s work,” says Debra. “I am particularly fascinated by his holistic approach, blending oral traditions with the archaeological record.”


Giving back to UH

Patrick and his colleagues originally studied Hālawa Valley on Moloka‘i in 1969 to understand settlement patterns and ecological change, two new perspectives at the time, says Debra. “It looms large in Hawaiian prehistory as one of the earliest settlements in the islands. Pat’s research today allows him to continue unraveling the story, using new techniques and knowledge gained over decades of study.”

Debra says, “Pat’s work is important. I firmly believe that in order to move forward and solve some of our challenges in today’s complex world, we need to understand our history, to know where we came from and how we got here. Prehistory can teach us so much.”

Debra and Arlen, who now live in Montana, established the research fund at a crucial time when university funding is uncertain and scarce. “I fully understand how difficult it is to secure funding,” Debra says. “I couldn’t have continued my education and doctoral research without graduate fellowships at UH Mānoa. This is my way of giving back.”

Debra and Arlen Prentice in Antarctica

Debra and Arlen Prentice hiking near the San Andreas Fault

Debra Prentice

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.