The students attended workshops and panel discussions and then a resource fair showcasing UH Hilo programs and support services, career possibilities, community organizations, and UH Hilo Pacific clubs.
Hawai‘i Island high school students of Pacific Islander heritage attended a motivational conference in October at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. The 8th Pacific Youth Empowerment for Success (PacYES!) conference is an annual event designed to motivate, inspire, and inform high school students of Pacific Island ethnicities—Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, Marshallese, Palaun, Pohnepein, Chuukese, Kosrean, Yapese, and others—about future opportunities.
The event has changed names over the years but is always focused on motivating the students to plan for higher education, meaningful careers, and community engagement. At the Oct. 26 event, the students learned about college and career opportunities and ways to build stronger cultural connections within their own communities. The theme of the conference was “Navigating Success,” a phrase described in event materials as meant “to honor the importance of canoe culture within Pacific Islander communities and evoke the spirit of perseverance and courage that Pacific Islander youth need on their journeys through life.”
Keynote speaker was Vidalino Raatior, an education specialist originally from Chuuk, Micronesia. He is a former director of the UH Hilo Pacific Islander Student Center, and is now a program specialist at the College of Professional and Global Education at San Jose State University. In his remarks, Raatior talked about cultures of Pacific Oceania being bound together, and that the students should be proud of who they are and that they have the power to shape their future.
Student speaker Dwayne Anefal shared the challenges and triumphs of his personal journey to reach his goals. Among his many accomplishments, Anefal lived in China for seven years, learned the Mandarin language, and obtained a degree in Chinese. He is currently a senior at UH Hilo majoring in anthropology and earning a certificate in Pacific Islands studies.
After everyone sang the unity anthem, “We Are Oceania,” the high school students attended workshops and panel discussions and then a resource fair showcasing UH Hilo programs and support services, career possibilities, community organizations, and UH Hilo Pacific clubs.
More than 70 UH Hilo student volunteers coordinated the event. Students from various UH Hilo Pacific clubs served as motivational speakers and panelists at the conference workshops. Michael Bitter, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, challenged each high school student to talk with a UH Hilo volunteer.
“The cumulative success of previous PacYES events was evident on Saturday, as many of the UH Hilo volunteers were former PacYES participants and are now serving as inspirational role models,” says Joseph Genz, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the UH Hilo Islands of Opportunity Alliance program. “This expanding cycle of outreach, recruitment and retention is wonderful to see.”
This year’s PacYES conference was sponsored by Micronesians United-Big Island; the Islands of Opportunity Alliance; UH Hilo Department of Anthropology; UH Hilo Pacific Islands Studies certificate program; UH Mānoa Center for Pacific Islands Studies and the Office of Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity; County of Hawai‘i Prosecutor’s Office; Hawai‘i Department of Education; Rotary Club of Hilo Bay; Big Island Toyota; and Gear Up.
Story by Susan Enright, 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.
Leah Sherwood contributed. She is a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at UH Hilo. She received her bachelor of science in biology and bachelor of arts in English from Boise State University.
Photos by Ginger Hamilton, former director of the UH Hilo Minority Access and Achievement Program, now retired after 34 years in student support services at the university.