David Sing, innovator and leader in shaping Hawaiian education, announces retirement from UH Hilo

For 40 years, David Sing has provided leadership in developing successful educational programs for native Hawaiians and other groups at UH Hilo and throughout the UH 10-campus system. 

By Susan Enright.

David Sing pictured
David Sing

One of the state’s most respected developers of educational programs for Native Hawaiians has announced his retirement from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

David Sing, founding executive director of Nā Pua No‘eau Center for Gifted and Talented Native Hawaiian Children, recently announced he is retiring from UH Hilo this fall after 40 years at the university, but says he will continue to serve Hawai‘i’s families and communities through Hawaiian education as a managing partner in a private business.

“I have been blessed to be part of many exciting initiatives and transformations — in the lives of children and their families, with our college students, with our University, in Hawaiian education, and in education in general,” he says in a written announcement. “I am grateful to the people who have shared the vision and conviction, and have endured the challenges of the journey.”

For four decades, Sing has provided leadership in developing successful educational programs for Native Hawaiians and other groups at UH Hilo and throughout the 10-campus UH System. His work at UH Hilo started in the early 1980’s, when he was part of a team of educators who started the UH Hilo Hawaiian Leadership Development Program.

“At the time, there were no Hawaiian studies or language programs and a small percentage of students of Hawaiian ancestry,” says Sing. “I hired the few Hawaiian students on campus to serve as peer counselors and tutors. At the time we needed to have a few more Hawaiians with a leadership presence.”

The leadership program became the first Hawaiian academic support program in the UH System and was the predecessor of UH Hilo’s Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center.

“During those (early) years, the development of the Hawaiian Leadership Development Program along with other support service programs began the upswing of Hawaiian students matriculating to UH Hilo,” says Sing. “The students coordinated an annual Hawaiian Leadership Conference, the first of its kind, which attracted people from across the state.”

The Hawaiian leadership program became the model for other student support service programs that subsequently emerged throughout the UH System. Sing says its students have gone on to become prominent teachers, UH administrators, community leaders, attorneys, medical doctors, and other professionals.

“Out of that effort, the administration asked me to do the same for K-12 students through a federal grant in 1989,” he says. “Thus, the story begins for Nā Pua No‘eau.”

The Nā Pua No‘eau Center for Gifted and Talented Native Hawaiian Children was created at UH Hilo for the purpose of increasing educational enrichment opportunities for Hawaiian children in kindergarten through 12th grade. Under Sing’s leadership, outreach centers were later established on the islands of Maui, Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Molokai, Lana‘i, and the west side of Hawai‘i Island to expand activities throughout the state.

Over the course of 25 years, Nā Pua Noʻeau has provided educational enrichment to over 16,000 students from different communities throughout the state of Hawaiʻi. Now, as he retires from UH, Sing looks back on two generations of students who have passed through the program.

“We have about ten former Nā Pua No‘eau students who are medical doctors or attorneys, and probably hundreds of teachers,” he says. “We have geologists, marine scientists, biologists, UH faculty and staff members.” Some former students teach as specialists.

Sing says one former student just returned home from her residency in Arizona for four years. She will soon start her practice as an ob-gyn in Hilo. Another former student is working for the State of Hawai‘i as director of mental health for Hilo. Another was appointed as a faculty member at UH Mānoa in the Center for Microbial Oceanography, Research and Education.

“More than any other organization that I’m familiar with, Nā Pua No‘eau empowers its students to believe that anything and everything is possible for themselves in education, learning and life,” Sing says. “Currently, 18 percent of the Hawaiian student population at UH Hilo are former Nā Pua No‘eau students. We are making a significant impact on the access and success of Hawaiian students in higher education, more than any other program.”

Sing’s designs of teaching and learning models have been replicated and used throughout Hawai‘i, the U.S. mainland, and internationally, raising achievement and aspirations of native Hawaiians and others while strengthening their connection to their culture and community.

“This may not seem like a lot but prior to the models I created, the education models demanded that students leave their culture in order to succeed in education and careers in Hawai‘i,” he says. In Sing’s models, culture is seen “as a distinct and positive contribution and not as a separate idea.”

In 2009, Sing received the Native Hawaiian Education Award recognizing him as the outstanding educator of the year contributing to the achievement and educational enrichment of Native Hawaiian children. He also was awarded the 2008 National Indian Education Association Educator of the Year Award. He received his bachelor of arts in Asian studies from UH Mānoa, and his master of arts in education and doctor of philosophy in education from Claremont Graduate University, California.

“I’ve known David for over thirty years now,” says William “Pila” Wilson, chair of the academic programs division of UH Hilo Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language. “He has done so much for Native Hawaiian students, beginning here in Hilo and then spreading out to include all of Hawaiʻi and beyond. It has been an amazing journey. We at Ka Haka ʻUla will miss having David on campus, but his work lives on in students, so many of whom have continued on in studying Hawaiian language and culture here in our program.”

Read the invitation to David Sing’s retirement party. UPDATE, OCT. 16: Due to a pending storm, the retirement gathering (paina) planned to salute David Sing on Friday, October 17, 2014 in Hilo has been postponed.

About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.