Students say new Summer Bridge program gave them the boost they need to thrive

Ultimately, the long-term goal of the Kupa ‘Āina Summer Bridge program is to give students the skills they need to succeed in school and go on to build careers that engender thriving lands and communities.

By Susan Enright.

Three students with digging tools, working in plot of land. Two wear t-shirts with words Kupa ‘Āina.
(l-r) Kupa ‘Āina classmates Birolena Vaoga, Lorilei Domingo, and Roger Dalere-Keauhou plant native plants during a field trip to the Keauhou Forest Reserve.
Beverly Ann Gorospe stands for photo beneath trees.
Beverly Ann Gorospe on field trip to Keauhou Forest Reserve.

Beverly Ann Gorospe says the Kupa ‘Āina Summer Bridge program was one of the best experiences of her life.

This summer, 25 college-bound graduates from Kea‘au High School lived for six weeks on the campus of University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, where they participated in college-level English and math courses, took field trips where they were immersed in ‘āina-based (land-based) learning, and participated in Hawaiian cultural activities to connect them to the island and culture.

“While at the program, we were all challenged,” says Gorospe. “This program by far was the most fun for me, but at the same time the most stressful. The class work was a bit tough and it got tougher with the addition of other aspects of the program. I definitely had to practice my time management skills.”

Gorospe earned six credits and received an A in English composition and a B in her math class. She is now a biology major at UH Hilo.

Group of students seated at desks with laptops in classroom.
(l-r) first row, Beverly Gorospe, Zachary Kakazu, and Bronson Mae-Adrian; second row, Blaize Mae-Adrian and Lowell Matias in Kupa ʻĀina class at Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center.

Kupa ‘Āina, which literally translates as someone who is “native” or “well acquainted” with the land, is a new summer bridge program done in partnership between UH Hilo, Kamehameha Schools, Keaʻau High School, and the UH Foundation. The program is designed to prepare local students for studies and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—the STEM disciplines—and natural resources fields.

“We are very excited about this new program and grateful to Kamehameha Schools for their partnership,” says UH Hilo Chancellor Don Straney. “Through innovative programs like this we will be able to improve retention and graduation rates, two to four year college transfer rates, and representation of Native Hawaiian and local students in agriculture and STEM fields.”

Group photo of cohort.
2014 Kupa ‘Āina Summer Bridge cohort.

The students in this first cohort are a diverse group who are for the most part first-generation college students. While some of their parents attended community college, the students report none of their parents or guardians had attended a four-year institution.

All of the students graduated from Kea‘au High School in the spring, with 40 percent of them self-identified as Native Hawaiian, and 40 percent as female. Most students (80 percent) were expected to attend Hawai‘i Community College this fall, and the rest UH Hilo. The most common majors that the students intend to pursue are health care, engineering, and computer technology.

Ultimately, the long-term goal of Kupa ‘Āina Summer Bridge is to give students the boost they need to be thriving students, succeed in school, and go on to build careers that engender thriving lands and communities.

Michael and Tristan digging hole to plant tree.
Michael Alonzo (right) with Tristan Haskell, planting native plants at Keauhou Forest Reserve. In the background is Jordan Pedersen-Fukunaga.

Along with Gorospe, classmate Michael Alonzo also thought the program was one of the best experiences he’s ever had. He especially liked the advising, counseling, tutoring, and self-development activities designed to teach him the skills he’ll need to succeed in college.

“I got to have the experience of living the college life,” he says, noting the support of UH Hilo and Kamehameha Schools staff and instructors. “They were all such smart, hardworking and very friendly people.”

Alonzo is now in the pre-nursing program at UH Hilo.

Students also learned about the natural resources around them. One student wrote in his exit report, “Before the program I used to think that all plants were ordinary plants, (now I know) they all have purpose and meaning and that is why we should protect them.” Instructors say this better understanding of the ‘āina led to an increased sense of responsibility in the students for the land.

“Now that I know (about the history of the ‘āina), I am more likely not to throw rubbish in the bushes,” one student wrote in his report. Others said that they were interested in volunteering in conservation efforts, and that the Summer Bridge program provided them with connections they could use in the future.

Students in the program were taught to show respect through chanting and asking permission before entering the ‘āina. Through this new connection to the land, one student wanted to start growing sweet potatoes, and others to build a wall. Several students also felt they wanted to live on the island rather than to leave it when they graduated. “I want to live here now,” wrote one in his report. “Before this program I was anxious to leave and try to live on the mainland, but now I want to live here.” Many students reported that they would share with others what they had learned.

Lorilei and Birolena digging hole to plant tree.
Lorilei Domingo (left) with Birolena Vaoga, Keauhou Forest Reserve.

“Overall, the Kupa ‘Āina Summer Bridge Program has been a great experience in building new connections with new people, the land, and within ourselves, gaining new friendships, and transitioning into college by gaining new useful skills needed for academic success,” says Lorilei Domingo, also now in pre-nursing at UH Hilo.

“What I found most important was using our time wisely,” she says. “Within the six weeks, not only were we taking two college courses, but on top of that, we were given the opportunity to work with Kamehameha Schools’ leaders to learn about the land, the history of the land, the culture of Hawai‘i, and skills to prepare for our future careers.”

What Domingo found most meaningful was the support that was given to the students throughout the six weeks.

“Without the tutors, I probably wouldn’t have done as well as I did in both of my classes,” she says. “They were there to help us and I’m glad they were. Not only did we have people to help us academically, there were those who gave us mental and emotional support to guide us towards success. I learned that we can’t go through this alone and it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.”

Gorospe says Kupa ‘Āina exposed her to the ‘āina and taught her new things about her island home.

“I have lived on the Big Island all my life and I haven’t really considered and appreciate Hawai‘i, as well as its culture, as deeply as I do now,” she says. “I learned so many new things and I have learned them in an interactive and enjoyable way. I have a much stronger respect for Hawai‘i, the history, and culture.”

More photos:

Students making Hawaiian string figures.
Students do Hawaiian string figures to chant, Mele Kumu Honua (creation of the the Hawaiian islands). The students did this “hei” chant at Hōʻike, the final event where the students demonstrated their learning in a multi-modal format. Students facing forward (l-r) first row, Noah Stancil and Bronson Mae-Adrian; second row, Michael Alonzo.


Students at final ceremonies. On lawn at park, ocean in background.
ʻAha Panina, Sunrise Closing Ceremony at Moku ʻOla.


Row of female students at ceremonies.
ʻAha Panina, Sunrise Closing Ceremony at Moku ʻOla.


Group of students at ceremonies, ocean in background.
At the ʻAha Panina (Sunrise Closing Ceremony), Zachary Kakazu (center) speaks on behalf of the students to Kamehameha administrators, staff, UH Hilo faculty, staff and UH Hilo Development Office Director of the UH Foundation.


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.