Hokulani Garcia’s long journey to earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaiʻi West Oʻahu began when she became a police dispatcher at 24, but it was her experience, years later, during the Covid-19 pandemic that gave her the drive to finish her bachelor’s degree and set her sights on graduate school.
Garcia, 41, graduated from UHWO in December with a bachelor’s degree in public administration with a dual concentration in disaster preparedness and emergency management and community health. She was recently accepted for a graduate program in public health policy and management at UH Mānoa, where she’ll start in the fall.
It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of scholarships, including a Crankstart Foundation Re-entry Scholarship that’s designed for working adults who’ve been out of high school for a few, or many, years. Many of the recipients are also parents like Garcia, a single mother of five children.
Garcia once dreamed of becoming a lawyer. But after leaving high school, getting a GED diploma and having her first child, “life changed, things happened.” After working at several different jobs, she became a police dispatcher, a position she held for eight years.
“That’s when I slowly started trying to go back to school,” she said, but the idea of law school then seemed out of reach for a working mom. She took an online course to become a paralegal and worked for private firms before getting a job in the state Office of the Attorney General five years ago. “Then seeing what I saw during Covid made me realize that maybe my calling was elsewhere.”
Other types of scholarships
Three years ago at the start the Covid-19 pandemic when the Hawaiʻi Department of Health needed people to train for contact tracing at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Garcia applied and was selected by professors at UH West Oʻahu for the first cohort.
The six-week training program included two college courses that reignited her desire to learn, especially when she found out she could use the credits, along with some of her paralegal training, toward a degree. She enrolled at UH West Oʻahu in 2020, but had to take out student loans because she didn’t know how to tap into financial aid.
“I thought scholarships were for kids right out of high school,” she said. “I didn't realize there were other types of scholarships.”
The Crankstart Foundation Re-entry Scholarships are for students like Garcia — working adults returning to college. Many of the scholarship recipients at UH Hilo, UH Mānoa and UH West Oʻahu are also parents. They’re enrolled in a wide range of courses of study, including nursing, kinesiology, communications, environmental studies, finance, accounting and education.
Counselors at UH helped Garcia apply for and secure several scholarships, including the Crankstart Foundation Re-entry Scholarship. At the same time, her daughter, Chanelle, was preparing to go to college. Now 20, Chanelle is finishing her sophomore year while her son Jonah will be a freshman in the fall.
“That’s one of the biggest decisions for parents,” she said. “We have kids going into college. Can we afford also putting ourselves through college?”
Garcia also has two young sons, Madoxx, 7, and Jaxxon, 6, in addition to her oldest, John, 22.
She hopes her college experience inspires her children.
“They’re a big part of my motivation, just wanting them to see that you can do whatever you want to do” she said. “You set your mind and just work for it.”