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UH Hilo faculty honored for excellence in teaching

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Date: Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong (808) 974-7642

For Immediate Release

A trio of University of Hawaii at Hilo faculty members have been recognized for their excellence in teaching and commitment to students. Mr. Samuel Na`ilima Gaison, lecturer of Hawaiian language, was presented the Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence by an Instructor or Lecturer, Dr. Rebecca Ostertag, assistant professor of biology, was awarded the University of Hawai`i Board of Regents Excellence in Teaching Award, and Dr. Alton Okinaka, associate professor of sociology, received the Outstanding Advisor/Mentor Award. The three received their awards during UH Hilo’s Spring Commencement ceremony held on May 14, 2005.

Gaison’s popular Hawaiian Language in Action class has become a cornerstone of UH Hilo’s effort to educate students about Hawaiian culture. “Kumu,” as he is affectionately known to many, earned praise from a colleague who described him as an instructor who brings the spirit of Aloha to life.

“Na`ilima is known for his longstanding and total commitment to providing students with a deeper understanding and appreciation for Hawaiian culture,” the colleague noted. “He goes beyond the call creating hands-on cultural encounters, including trips to historical sites and culturally based activities, sometimes financed with his own personal funds.”

A UH Hilo senior majoring in communication said in nominating Gaison that his love and passion for teaching is undeniable.

“You see it in the way he carries himself, hear it in the way he speaks about the Hawaiian culture, and feel it when you make eye contact with him,” the student wrote. “He speaks with such conviction that it is impossible to leave class without a sense of pride and inquiry about the Hawaiian language revitalization effort.”

Colleagues in the biology department say Ostertag came to UH Hilo with impressive credentials, yet continuously exceeds expectations.

“Becky is one of the most promising teacher/scholars that we have ever recruited and among her many talents is outstanding teaching and selfless dedication to helping undergraduate students,” one colleague said. “Her teaching evaluations are among the highest I have ever seen, with some students telling me they thought Becky was the best teacher they ever had.”

Students say Ostertag exhibits a high level of involvement and superior teaching ability.

“She makes each student feel that their ideas and projects are important and worthwhile, providing needed criticism in a way that is positive and supportive,” one student wrote. “Professor Ostertag is genuinely interested in the education process while also engaging in current and inspirational research.”

Students credit Okinaka, known to many of them as “Dr. O,” for his high level commitment to the University, where he has served in various capacities, including UH Hilo Student Association (UHHSA) Advisor, testing coordinator for the general GRE graduate school admissions test, and a volunteer at numerous Athletic events. One of his nominators stated that Okinaka’s knowledge and expertise has helped make UHHSA a more effective advocate for the University and its students.

“Being involved in numerous legislative affairs, both on campus and at the state level, he is able to advise today’s student leaders on what to do on their legislative trips and during their senate meetings,” the student stated. “I don’t see how UHHSA would be where it is today without his countless hours of support.”

Okinaka also gets high marks for his ability to easily relate to students on campus, which they say makes him a respectable advisor.

“Many students are able to talk to Dr. O on a very personal level, and he is very receptive to people talking to him,” another student wrote. “Many people have a problem that suddenly comes up, and if he isn’t busy (or even if he is in some cases), he’ll listen and handle their situation.”

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