David Sing honored with national award for his work in Native Hawaiian education

David Sing, an emeritus specialist at UH Hilo known for creating programs that allow Native Hawaiian students to believe “anything and everything is possible,” is the recipient of the 2021 National Indian Education Association Lifetime Achievement Award.

By Susan Enright.

David Sing pictured with lei.
David Sing

One of the Hawaiʻi’s most respected developers of educational programs for Native Hawaiians has received a prestigious national award for the work he accomplished in his 40-year career at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and beyond.

David Kekaulike Sing, specialist emeritus at UH Hilo, is the recipient of the 2021 National Indian Education Association (NIEA) Lifetime Achievement Award. The award will be presented Oct. 15 during the association’s annual convention being held this week in Omaha, Nebraska. Sing will remain in Hilo and accept the award via Zoom.

The NIEA Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes and honors individuals, who have made significant contributions to the education of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian people. Their leadership, passion, and dedication for improving education stand as a testimony to the power and potential of all Native students and serve to inspire new generations of educators.

Roots at UH Hilo

Sing started out at UH Hilo in 1974 as a counselor for Pacific Island students. He went on to become founding executive director of Nā Pua Noʻeau Center for Gifted and Talented Native Hawaiian Children, based at UH Hilo for decades and one of the most important programs in Native Hawaiian education found in the state. The program was later expanded to other UH campuses Kauaʻi Community College, UH Mānoa, and UH Maui College.

A collage of photos of hundreds of children with snow-capped Maunakea in the background.
A collage of children who have attended Nā Pua Noʻeau programs. Photo courtesy of David Sing/UH Hilo.

Sing retired from UH Hilo in 2014. Soon after, the UH Board of Regents approved his new status and title of specialist emeritus at UH Hilo.

Sing is known for creating programs that allow Native Hawaiian students to believe, in his words, “anything and everything is possible.” Forty years ago, when Native Hawaiian programs for academic success were non-existent, he designed and conducted the first programs for Native Hawaiians that acknowledged and built upon their strengths as opposed to remedial and deficit-based programs. Ahead of his time, he also provided strong leadership in higher education by promoting equity and diversity in Hawaiʻi.

Gail Makuakāne-Lundin pictured
Gail Makuakāne-Lundin

“David was my mentor when I was hired at UH Hilo nearly 37 years ago,” says Gail Makuakāne-Lundin, director of Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center at UH Hilo. “He also served in that role for many other young Native Hawaiian professionals who worked at UH Hilo beginning in the 1980s.” Those professionals include Ginger Hamilton, student support, UH Hilo, retired; Manu Meyer, student affairs, UH West Oʻahu; Kamuela Chun, academic affairs, UH Community Colleges; Kinohi Gomes, program director, UH Mānoa Na Pua Noʻeau; and Lui Hokoana, chancellor, UH Maui College.

“He organized the first Native Hawaiian Council for faculty and staff on the UH Hilo campus, the Committee of Faculty of Hawaiian Ancestry, and he established the Hawaiian Leadership Development Program in 1984, which today is the Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center,” says Makuakāne-Lundin.

Old photo of a group sitting/standing for photo. Words: Committee of Faculty of Hawaiian Ancestry (The advising component of HLDP and other UHH issues). Hawaiian Leadership Development Program. Missing from picture: Ginger Hamilton, Gennie Kinney, David Sing, Eli Kikuchi.
August 31, 1988: The Committee of Faculty of Hawaiian Ancestry. The committee was organized by David Sing in the 1980s. Left to right, front row: Malu Debus, Jackie Johnson, Rosemary Burnett, Gail Makuakāne-Lundin, Manulani Meyer. Back row: Lianne Sing, Peter Hanohano, Ed Kanahele , Kalena Silva, Kamuela Chun, Pila Wilson, Kauanoe Kamanā. Photo via Gail Makuakāne-Lundin/UH Hilo.

Through the years, the programs Sing started for Native Hawaiians were models for higher education retention and graduation, raising achievement and aspirations for K-12 students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and health career pathways. His former students are medical doctors, engineers, teachers, scientists, university faculty, attorneys, community leaders, government leaders, and entrepreneurs.

“The pathway is to increase the number of professionals that return and serve their Native Hawaiian communities and to be role models for future generations,” says Sing in a 2015 interview for the news website of his alma mater, Claremont Graduate University, where he received his master and doctoral degrees.

A biographical piece on Sing submitted to the NIEA states he is especially proud of helping his students believe in themselves and in serving their families and community.

Group stands and sits for photo.
David Sing (back row, center right) formed the Ke Ola Mau Advisory Council to help increase the number of Native Hawaiian health professionals throughout the state. Photo courtesy of David Sing/UH Hilo.

The NIEA bio explains that Sing’s expertise is in creating optimal learning conditions for Native Hawaiians and other underserved populations. His education model was applied in higher education in the 1980s through the Hawaiian Leadership Development Program at UH Hilo, the first support service program for Native Hawaiian students in higher education in the 10-campus UH System. This is the program that became Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center and was replicated by other campuses to enhance recruitment, retention, and graduation of Native Hawaiians.

The model was also applied to a K-12 program Sing designed for Native Hawaiian children in grades K-12 that integrates native perspective, history, language, culture and values to raise the achievement and aspirations of Native Hawaiian children. This program, known by its Hawaiian name Nā Pua Noʻeau and based at UH Hilo, went on to open offices statewide administered through other UH campuses. The program is highly successful in increasing the number of native Hawaiians enrolled at all ten UH campuses.

Mobilizing Native Hawaiian education

While participating in National Indian Education Association conventions to broaden his work and to learn from Indian education, Sing mobilized Native Hawaiian education caucus groups creating a voice for Native Hawaiian education to be heard through grassroots venues. He was the founding president of the Native Hawaiian Education Association (NHEA). It replicated the national NIEA at a regional level and provided a venue for Native Hawaiian educators to work on their local issues in the same way NIEA does for the native educators on the continent.

He also worked with the NIEA board and administration to include Native Hawaiians as regular voting members of NIEA. He served as vice president and the first Native Hawaiian on the National Indian Education Association Board of Directors. This was an important step in the many partnerships that have formed across the nation between Native Hawaiian educators and their counterparts in the Indian nation.

Sing received the National Indian Education Association Educator of the Year Award in 2008. In 1991 and 2009, he received the Native Hawaiian Education Award recognizing him as an outstanding educator for contributing to the achievement and educational enrichment of Native Hawaiian children.

Sing continues his work as managing partner at Educational Prism, a ​Hawaiʻi-based Hawaiian-owned education consultant company serving leaders at schools, universities, and education centers specializing in Native Hawaiian students and Native Hawaiian education.

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.

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