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UH Hilo earns federal grant for Pacific Island Center

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Date: Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642

For Immediate Release

Plans for the University of Hawaii at Hilo proposed Center for Pacific Islander Education and Retention have received a major boost with receipt of a $682, 982 grant from the U.S. Department of Education for planning and design.

The cost of the two-year project totals $1,994, 557 with the $1.3 million balance coming in year two for conversion and renovation of under-utilized space at the Campus Center, where the facility will be housed.

The Center is scheduled to open in Fall 2010 and will host speakers, presentations, and performances, while providing an informal gathering place for students, faculty and staff. Other activities will include peer mentoring, tutoring and learning communities and multicultural training and workshops. Key features will include wireless internet access, flat screen TVs and a library, complete with relevant education, leadership, and cultural materials and resources to help increase Pacific Islander student success and retention.

“This is excellent news, given the large numbers of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island students enrolling at UH Hilo,” said Chancellor Rose Tseng. “Although we have various programs and initiatives like Kipuka (The Native Hawaiian Studies Center) for Native Hawaiians, we have nothing comparable to address the needs of our Pacific Island students.”

UH Hilo enrolled 740 students of Native Hawaiian ancestry in Fall 2007, accounting for 21.6 percent of the student body. That was the second highest percentage among the State’s public and private baccalaureate degree granting institutions. At the same time, the University posted the largest percentage of Pacific Island students in the entire UH system with 193 or 5 percent of its overall total. Most come from Micronesia, the cultural group of islands scattered throughout the North Pacific, and American Samoa.

“We have a long history of Pacific Island students coming to UH Hilo to earn a degree so that they can return home to assume important leadership positions,” said Student Development Director Jim Mellon. “We believe this Center constitutes one
of the missing links that will help these students get the most out of their educational experience.”

The proposed name will be the Etak Center for Pacific Islander Education and Retention. ‘Etak’ is the system of traditional navigation utilizing extensive knowledge and understanding of the sea, wind, and stars which Pacific Islanders have used to successfully navigate the vast Pacific Ocean for thousands of years.

The concept of “Etak” will help Pacific Island students navigate the University and strengthen pride in their cultural legacies, achievements, and backgrounds. The Center will also educate students, faculty and staff about the Pacific Islands, to give them a greater understanding and appreciation of their unique cultures, histories, and contributions.

Dr. Luoluo Hong, vice chancellor for student affairs, said increasing the success of Pacific Island students will benefit the entire University.

“Improving the success rates of this growing student population through increased retention will contribute to the overall growth of this institution,” Hong said. “It will also promote self-sufficiency, since higher retention rates generate more revenues for UH Hilo, and by extension causes it to rely less on external sources of funding.”

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