Kīpuka: Inside the Native Hawaiian Student Center

By Koa Kim

Kīpuka is UH Hilo’s center for native Hawaiian students where you can find tutoring, mentorship, friendship, and the cheapest printing on campus. Appearing on campus maps as building 5B, Kīpuka is a series of maroon portable buildings with a quaint central lanai. It isn’t, however, just a bunch of portables. According to staff and student mentors, Kīpuka is a place of comradery, facilitation, and growth.

“One thing Kīpuka definitely is, it’s a home away from home, and a family away from family.”

This is how Kiha Stevens, a student mentor for Kīpuka, described the center during their weekly mentor meeting on Sept. 29. He was one of nine student mentors present, along with three other staff members.

The meaning of Kīpuka, Hawaiian perspectives and the importance of community were emphasized heavily by the student mentors in the meeting. They also discussed the services provided by Kīpuka, volunteer work, and the center’s COVID response.

On a service level, Kīpuka provides student mentorship, tutoring, and informational advice. They also print, make copies, and even loan out laptops. The Hoʻolau peer mentor service is offered to first-year students and new transfers to help them navigate academic life. The tutoring services offered include Hawaiian Studies, STEM, and Hula. The printing and copying can be done right on the lanai in the center. “We have the cheapest printing on campus!” says Sydney, another student mentor.

The participation of Kīpuka in community services, or mālama kaiāulu, varies. Kīpuka can tend to taro gardens, fishponds, their own gardens, and more. Their community service trips are limited to 10 participants because of COVID. Despite this restriction, they do everything they can and welcome those who want to help.

COVID has posed quite a challenge for a social program like Kīpuka, but they have faced it head-on. When you walk into the patio, you will find a laptop logged onto STAR. There, you can log in and open a STAR kiosk, through which you can communicate directly with a staff member over Zoom. They also use Zoom for meetings, as well as tutoring.

As discussed in the center’s September meeting, Kīpuka is a plane of land surrounded by a lava field, or a clearing in a forest, where vegetation growth can happen. Kīpuka provides a space for students to be supported, and the center aims at facilitating student growth. As they are the Native Hawaiian Center, they hope to lend their support in a uniquely Hawaiian way.

They use the Hawaiian perspective as a tool for bonding and as a drive for their efforts - that’s what makes them the Native Hawaiian Center. “Everyone deserves a kīpuka in their lives.” shared Sydney. The members of Kipuka strongly encourage other college students to find a similar community to be a part of because, for them, Kīpuka makes college life better.