North Hawai`i Education and Research Center
Staff Writer Clara Scheidle
Photos courtesy of NHERC website
The North Hawaiʻi Education and Research Center is a branch of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo located in Honokaʻa, a small town in North Hawaiʻi. It functions as an accessible education opportunity that is still of excellent quality to students from all over northern Hawai’i and the Hamakua coast. The building and the school were set up in 2006, and the school has been in session ever since. The NHERC offers courses for credit from UH Hilo in a traditional, face to face classroom as well as online courses. In addition to this, one could also take a non- credit course, which are designed for “personal development,” as stated by the NHERC website. The NHERC even provides a computer lab to enhance the student’s academic potential.
Perhaps the most unique part of the NHERC, however, is the Heritage Center. Opening for the first time in 2011, the Heritage Center has three main components, which Dr. Momi Naughton, the Heritage Center Coordinator, describes as being, “a long-term exhibit on Honoka’a history, a changing exhibit gallery with a current exhibit on Waipi’o Valley... and an archives and resource center.”
She also notes that the changing exhibit gallery rotates every year, and that the archives and resource center comes complete with documents, oral histories, and photographs. There is constantly new content being added and brought into the exhibits as it is discovered by the local community.
All in all, the Heritage Center is the culture-based museum that the Honokaʻa residents have been pushing for since the 1970’s, according to Naughton. The Heritage center “celebrates the history of the area and the legacy of the sugar plantation in building [Honokaʻa]” while also providing a “place where research on local families, businesses, and general history may be accessed.” To showcase the efforts put in to creating this museum of Honokaʻa history, the Heritage Center is free to the public and open Monday through Saturday. Naughton also mentions a “weekly ‘talk story’” at the center that serves as a gathering place for the community.
Though it may sit in a small town of less than 2,500 people according to the 2010 census, the NHERC, and the Heritage Center within, are both driving forces in the Honokaʻa community in the sense that they inspire the people to get connected and educated about the town they live in and the culture they were raised around. In fact, the beginning sentence in a statement by the Heritage Center Community Advisory Group outlining the NHERC vision and values, reads, “We… envision an active educational facility that will foster pride and perpetuate the diverse heritage of Hāmākua and North Hawaiʻi while providing our communities with a foundation to thrive in the future.”
Editor’s note: The newly appointed director of the NHERC, Dr. Kei Lin K.H Cerf, wished to comment but was unable to in time for publication.