Our lives on Earth reflect but an instant in the ageless timeline. Use this flicker in time wisely that your life will shine brightly as does the firefly’s brief yet intense light. Speak with kindness, seek purity of soul and share your art. — Karen Fujishima-Lee, 1949-2008
Since 2010, the Karen Fujishima-Lee Memorial Student Support Endowment has provided financial support for students of all ages and backgrounds who are seeking a degree or certificate at Leeward Community College and who have financial needs created by balancing the demands of attending or returning to college along with the demands of family, child care, jobs, commuting, disabilities or limited resources.
Michael T. Lee created the endowment the fund to honor the legacy of his wife, Professor Karen Fujishima-Lee, who taught at Leeward Community College from 1979 until her death in 2008. In 2021, Mr. Lee donated $100,000 to grow the scholarship fund to help more Leeward Community College students achieve their educational goals while facing economic challenges and needs, just as Karen did.
Karen understood the challenges her students faced and was inspired by their perseverance. She wrote in her notebook:
“The joy of teaching is fueled by the inspiration from my students. Students who are working two jobs; students with families and children; military wives; retirees returning to complete a dream; and students in transition. Their dedication to education and their perseverance in the learning process increases my resolve to do the best possible job I can for my students.”
Karen’s sudden passing by a brain aneurysm in 2008 was a painful shock and loss to all who were touched by her presence and passion for life and teaching. As Principal of the non-profit Hanayagi Dancing Academy, Karen generously shared the joy and art of Japanese dance with her students and the people of Hawai‘i. This generosity was reflected also in her teaching at Leeward Community College. Her mantra was that every student has the ability to learn.
One of Karen’s former students, Dillion Wier, said, “She was the first teacher in my college years who made a difference in the way I wanted to learn. She was always polite and didn’t brush you off if you needed extra help. She helped build confidence and self-esteem in me with her powerful encouragement and positive attitude. She was one of those special teachers.”
Former Mathematics and Sciences Division Chair Jennie Thompson shared, “Karen Fujishima-Lee attained a level of excellence in teaching that has benefited her students, her colleagues, the Mathematics Department, the Mathematics and Sciences Division, and Leeward Community College. Her students described her as an excellent, exceptional, caring and inspirational professor, praising her as ‘an awesome teacher,’ one who truly seemed to want to help her students by breaking everything down so they could understand, creating a comfortable and unpressured learning environment. Students also complimented her for encouraging them to think critically and to figure things out on their own.”
Thompson wrote, “Most of all, Karen was an educator who loved her students.” Her love, support, and generous spirit live on through her scholarship fund, making higher education and a better life possible for countless students at Leeward Community College.