UH Maui College: A Perfect Blend of Hawaiian Values and Academics


University of Hawaiʻi Maui College (UHMC) Chancellor Lui Hokoana knows one thing for sure: learning does not necessarily require students to sit behind desks or hunch over laboratory tables.

Hokoana says a more effective approach to education is to not only instruct but to motivate and mobilize. His vision of a successful UHMC graduate is someone who learns but who also has a deep understanding of what it means to share their acquired knowledge and expertise with the communities in which they live.

It’s with this philosophy that Hokoana guides his faculty and student body to be deeply rooted in their own kuleana to care for and nurture Hawaiian values, even long after they’ve graduated.

“We tell our students that they have a kuleana to their community – wherever their community may be,” says Hokoana. “We hope that they see their education as a gift that was given to them to share wherever they end up.”

Under Hokoana’s guidance, UHMC faculty have embraced his vision, and via a number of innovative programs, are shepherding their students through a framework of learning that prioritizes the practical implementation of Hawaiian values as they relate to academia.

One of the college’s most robust programs that successfully marries academics with hands-on cultural learning is its stewardship of the Palauea Cultural Preserve, a 20-acre parcel of land owned by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) and maintained and cared for by UHMC through a partnership that began in 2014. For nearly a decade, UHMC has used the partnership to teach Hawaiian learners the importance of maintaining, preserving and cherishing Hawaiian land, native species and cultural places.

Professor Kaheleonalani Dukelow heads up the Palauea Preserve stewardship program. She says that the Palauea cultural preserve was established to provide a kīpuka for the Hawaiian community amidst rampant development in Mākena.

Each semester, UHMC faculty, staff and students visit the site, to learn about the area and its history and to participate in programs to restore native plant species and curb the growth of invasive species.

UHMC also partners with UH Mānoa to teach a number of ʻāina-based field school programs at Palauea: The Mauiakama Hawaiian language field school brings students to the preserve for a week-long Hawaiian language experience that focuses on creating connections to place through ʻōlelo, moʻolelo and mālama ʻāina. The Ea Hawaiʻi field school engages students in moʻolelo, contemporary history and mālama ʻāina, creating a bridge toward community involvement and advocacy.

The greater community is also able to connect to Palauea through community engagement programs that are extended to schools and cultural organizations.

“Palauea is a place where Hawaiian cultural sites can be protected, the Hawaiian landscape can be restored, and Hawaiians can continue to be present on the land,” Dukelow said. “If not for this kīpuka, there would be no Hawaiian place left in Palauea. He aloha nō ʻo Palauea.”

Hokoana talks about his staff like they’re members of his family — the kind of family members that make the whole ʻohana proud. And he is optimistic about the future of UHMC.

Three faculty members just completed doctoral degrees at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, an Indigenous university in Aotearoa – proof, he says, that Maui College faculty understand the importance of leading by example. Two of them completed dissertations in hana noʻeau: kapa-making and kōkō puʻupuʻu (fine net-making).

This blending of academia with Native Hawaiian art forms, exemplified Hokoana’s vision of a nurturing learning environment uncontained by the walls of a classroom. And it also inspired an idea.

Why not create a program at UHMC that not only teaches students hana noʻeau, but also teaches them how run a business so they can make their art their livelihood thus allowing a variety of Hawaiian art forms to flourish in the community?

Hokoana ran his idea by UHMC faculty member and iconic Kumu Hula Hōkūlani Holt and braced himself – commercialization of Indigenous art forms can be controversial. But Holt listened to his pitch and reminded him that kumu hula are already doing that – and that if you teach hula the right way, with integrity and reverence, the culture of hula and the business of hula can co-exist.

Right there and then, Hokoana and Holt decided to take the steps necessary to apply for a Title III federal education grant and create a hana noʻeau business program for Maui College.

Their grant application was successful and Holt is currently heading up the implementation of the program. It’s still in the early stages, but, with his vision to see other Native Hawaiian art forms flourish as hula does, Hokoana hopes that one day soon UHMC will be home to a student-operated retail storefront that sells hana noʻeau Hawaiʻi.

“We have this kuleana to serve in our roles as teachers and facilitators of learners for Maui County, but individually, we also have our kuleana to our families and communities,” Hokoana said. “As a leader of this institution, I believe the work that we do in our communities is just as important as the work we do for our students in the classroom.”