Skip to content →

Donors are introduced to scholarship recipients at the 2011 Scholarship Banquet

“Behind every scholarship there is an individual or a company that has a connection to UH Hilo and a desire to help our students. On behalf of the university community, I’d like to take this opportunity to express gratitude to our donors.” -Chancellor Straney

Retired pharmaceutical entrepreneur Alec Keith, center, is surrounded by scholarship recipients at the 2011 Scholarship Banquet. In 2004, Keith and his wife Kay pledged $2.4 million to fund scholarships at UH Hilo, which at that time was the largest private donation made to any campus in the UH system. The Alec and Kay Keith Scholarship supports students from Hawai‘i and the Pacific islands who demonstrate both academic merit and financial need. Photos by Robbyn Peck.
Chancellor Straney delivers remarks at the 2011 Scholarship Banquet.

University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Chancellor Don Straney and the UH Foundation co-hosted the 2011 Scholarship Banquet held Nov. 10 on campus. The annual event is organized to thank UH Hilo’s private scholarship donors and to introduce them to the students currently benefiting from their support. About 150 people attended, including 50 private scholarship donors.

“It’s clear what a vitally important role our private donors play in ensuring the academic success of our students– scholarships support students to complete their education and contribute to their communities,” said Chancellor Straney. “Behind every scholarship there is an individual or a company that has a connection to UH Hilo and a desire to help our students. On behalf of the university community, I’d like to take this opportunity to express gratitude to our donors.”

Donor Gladys Sonomura walks up to the podium to give her remarks.

Donor Gladys Sonomura said a long time ago she began to embrace the idea that UH Hilo could become Hilo’s primary economy, its industry as a college town, like the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she studied for a year.

“Astronomy, the volcanoes, the ocean and multi-culturalism are unique here,” said Sonomura. “Pharmacy and advanced nursing degrees are now entrenched here. Hilo is on an island where we even have the requisite elevations from sea level to the tops of our mountains to grow almost anything.”

Sonomura’s friends were invited to accompany Pierre and Pam Omidyar when they received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in New York last month. Noting that Andrew Carnegie was quoted as having said, “To die rich is to die in disgrace,” Sonomura commented, “I like to think that if I had access to such wealth, I would not die in disgrace. UH Hilo would receive the greater part of it, and I would also support Hawai‘i Community College.”

Elina Fred

Scholarship recipient Elina Fred was born and raised on the island of Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia. She is due to graduate from UH Hilo in December with a double major in accounting and communications. Her goal is to become a CPA. Fred thanked her donor, Alec Keith, “for having given me a 23-year head start on where I want to go” because 23 years is how long she calculated that she would have had to work with only a high school diploma in Micronesia in order to earn sufficient funds to attend a university in the U.S.

Cheryl Lopez

“Tonight is the first time I’m meeting you,” she said to Keith, “but you’ve already made a big impact on my life.”

Fred hopes one day to start a scholarship fund for students from her island.

Scholarship recipient Cheryl Lopez was born and raised in a Filipino-American family on Maui. She is the first in her in her family to earn an undergraduate degree and is now in the third year of pharmacy school. She, too, hopes one day to provide scholarship support to students.


Facts about Financial Aid at UH Hilo:

  • 70% of UH Hilo’s 4,000+ students depend upon some form of financial aid to fund the cost of attending university. For first year students at UH Hilo, the percentage is even higher: 75% of freshmen are receiving financial aid.
  • UH Hilo has the highest percentage of students receiving aid of any of the ten campuses in the University of Hawai‘i System.
  • Almost 42% of UH Hilo students qualify for Pell grants, the federal aid which reserved for students with the highest financial need. This academic year, for the first time in history, the maximum Pell grant failed to meet the full cost of resident tuition at UH Hilo.
  • The UH Hilo Financial Aid office receives almost 7,000 applications for financial aid and awards over $42 million in support to students annually. Private scholarships account for about 1% of this aid, or $440,000.
  • In FY11, generous donors enabled UH Hilo to raise the largest number of private scholarship dollars in history: $1,618,148. Between 2000 and 2011, UH Hilo’s scholarship endowment grew from $942,000 to $3.4 million.
Photos by Robbyn Peck.

Published in All Posts Community Gatherings