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Jim Lally is the powerhouse behind a number of highly impactful UH initiatives. Thanks to his generosity and tenacity, people of all ages on Kaua‘i who were not college bound are now experiencing the benefits of a 13th year of education through the Wai‘aleale Project. Lally was also instrumental in seeing the Hawai‘i CC- Pālamanui campus become a reality. As a high level thinker, he has also been key to the UH strategic hiring effort that brings top researchers from around the world to UH as part of the Hawai‘i Innovation Initiative, which aims to create a $1-billion research enterprise in Hawai‘i.

What is the 13th year statistic?

The 13th year statistic was uncovered by Earl Bakken and Sharon Vitousek. They learned that if you have one year of formal school beyond high school, you earn 35 percent more money over your lifetime and you are 28 percent less likely to be unemployed during any part of the economic cycle. But the thing that was shocking to me was that you live seven years longer. That is an incredible statistic! It’s also incontrovertible because it’s been in the census for the last 50 years. Because of that it’s completely unacceptable for anybody to be denied access to a 13th year of school (and seven more years in their lives) because they have a financial problem.

Can you tell us about the Wai‘aleale Project you helped start at Kaua‘i CC?

The program, led by Kimo Perry, started in 2010. Designed to remove barriers to entering and succeeding in college, the program provides financial aid and ongoing student support to people of all ages who were not planning on attending college. We work with social service agencies and high school counsellors to help us reach our participants. Today we have almost 400 students who have gone through the program. The academic and personal successes of our cohorts have surprised even us! Our goal is to expand the program statewide.

Why do you care so much about this group of disadvantaged people?

Because I was a disadvantaged kid. All I needed was a little help, just a little help and a little encouragement and it went a long, long way. That’s the same thing here. Here are all these resources, all this talent, all these amazing people. All they need is to understand that people believe in them and they will give them a chance. And that’s all they need. They don’t need hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of tutoring and babying. They just need to know that somebody believes in them. Give them a little push, and boom – they’re off and running.