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March 2, 2022

The scholarships Shanna Laʻa and Ray Pikelny-Cook received when they were studying at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa to become teachers impacted not only their lives and careers as educators, but the futures of their own children and countless children they influence through their work as public school educators on Oʻahu’s Waianae Coast. 

The James and Abigail Campbell Family Foundation Scholarship in Teacher Education at UH Mānoa made it possible for both women to continue school after advancing from Leeward Community College to the four-year program at UH Mānoa College of Education by helping to pay for expenses so they wouldn’t have to juggle jobs and family with school.

For more than 25 years, the James & Abigail Campbell Scholarships in Teacher Education have helped more than 200 education students at UH committed to working as teachers or education leaders on the Waianae Coast.  The foundation has given more than $1 million to support UH programs and students, including two teacher education scholarships — at Mānoa, where it’s supported 174 students to date, and at UH West Oʻahu, which has supported 22 students in the five years since its inception.

For Ray and Shanna, the scholarships meant they could advance their studies from community college to Mānoa, and the bond formed by two young mothers with a common goal has turned into a lifelong friendship.

Paying it forward

The impact of the scholarships didn’t end with graduation. Seventeen years later, the Campbell Family Foundation scholarships’ impact lives on for them, their families and the thousands of Waianae Coast families they have touched as educators.

Ray Pikelny-Cook
Ray Pikelny-Cook

“We’re still reaping the benefits of the scholarship, and paying it forward,” Ray says.

Ray and Shanna were hired after graduation as public school teachers on the Waianae Coast. Today, Ray is the principal of Waianae Elementary School and interim principal of Waianae High School and Shanna is the instructional coach at Mākaha Elementary School. Both women went on to earn master’s degrees in education and are working on earning doctorates.

Shanna had always wanted to become a teacher, and she started college with that goal after graduating from Nānākuli High School. But family responsibilities, including the birth of her daughter, put college on hold. At 21, she returned to classes at Leeward Community Collegeʻs Waianae Moku campus, where she met Ray, who was also juggling family responsibilities, including a new baby.

The two women shared the common goal of becoming teachers in their Waianae Coast community and they became close friends.

Providing piece of mind

They advanced to LCC’s Pearl City campus before transferring to UH Mānoa, but with the longer commute, there was no extra time to earn money at a job and the higher tuition put a strain on the family finances. Both Ray and Shanna say the Campbell scholarships allowed them to focus on their studies, since they were able to use the funds for the costs associated with attending class in Mānoa.

Shanna Laa
Shanna La'a

“At that point in my life we were figuring out how to get by,” Shanna says. “Getting the scholarships gave me. the piece of mind to focus on what I needed to do at school, it didn’t take away from my family.”

“Having that flexibility to use the money the way we needed to during that time really helped us be able to focus and get through our years at Mānoa,” Ray says.

After working together as teachers at Mākaha Elementary School, Ray moved to administration, first as vice principal at James Campbell High School in ʻEwa Beach. When there was a vice principal opening at Waianae High School, she chose Shanna to be her partner, and they worked together again before Ray became principal and Shanna moved to her current role as a coach for teachers at Mākaha Elementary. 

Shanna says she and Ray have each mentored future teachers at the UH Mānoa College of Education — some of whom also received Campbell scholarships. And Ray has seen students who graduated from Waianae High School return as teachers.

“It’s a full circle kind of thing,” Shanna says. “We’re still recipients.”

Legacy for Waianae Coast

Today, Shanna’s daughter recently graduated with her master’s degree in geology and geophysics from UH Mānoa, while her son is studying to be a carpenter. Ray’s daughter is finishing her requirements for a nursing degree and her son is studying to become an electrical engineer.

“It couldn’t have happened for them if it didn’t happen for us,” Shanna says. “There’s a legacy that we leave for our children.”

And it’s a legacy for the children on the Waianae Coast, where many go on to become the first in their families to attend college.

“College is not a word that we don’t speak of anymore,” says Ray. At one time the conversation was that college was an opportunity for a certain group of people, not all. 

Now, they’re working to shift the mindset of the students, and their parents.

“Not just the students, but the adults on the campus, getting them to see kids can make it,” Ray says. 

If you would like to learn how you can support UH students and programs like this, please contact us at 808 376-7800 or send us a message.