Saturday, March 31, 2012

Why the P.I.A. project matters to us

The Pacific Islander Access project is a "micro-nonprofit" corporation that was founded, and is run today, on a 100 percent volunteer basis.  Why do we believe this issue -- ending Pacific Islander exclusion from academic programs for underrepresented minorities -- is important enough for us to volunteer our time and energy?

Here is the answer from each of our board members:
  • Kawika: "Why does this issue matter to me? I guess it started with a personal experience. As a college student, I learned about the exclusion of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders firsthand..." Read more
  • Karin: "My main project as an intern was to update a national study regarding Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islander access to underrepresented minority scholarships and fellowships...In calculating the final figures, I saw how Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are excluded from applying for millions of dollars in financial aid..." Read more
  • Lorinda: "Perhaps it is my legal background, but this inequity offends me and I want to change it..." Read more
  • Bryce: "Do Pacific Islanders count?  This had been a lingering question that returned to my mind every year, just around the time to reapply for college financial aid..." Read more

Sunday, March 25, 2012

P.I.A. project Board Member Stories: Lorinda

Aloha! Osiyo!  My name is Lorinda Riley. That's right, just like Kawika.  He let me used it after we got married.  :)  

I have the privilege of serving as the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Legal Counsel at the P.I.A. project, as well as one of the founding board members.  I've been involved in the P.I.A. project since nearly the beginning. In fact, I remember when Kawika first told me about the exclusion of Pacific Islanders from academic programs for underrepresented minorities . . .  in fact, it was while we were on a date! It wasn’t long after that conversation that I reflected upon my own experiences and decided to join the effort.

Even though I grew up in Hawai'i, the severity of this issue barely registered with me while I was at home.  During my junior or senior year of high school I recall a heated discussion about which box to check on our college applications.  When I applied to the University of California, Los Angeles many of my friends suggested that I check the "Other" box instead of "Asian Pacific Islander" because under affirmative action (I was actually in the last class at UCLA to benefit from affirmative action) it was more difficult to get in if you checked the "Asian Pacific Islander" box instead of the "Other" box.  Well, I had an easy solution for that problem, because I'm also American Indian on my father's side, I checked the "American Indian" box.  I identify very strongly with being American Indian.  I am affiliated with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and I decided long before college applications came around that whenever I needed to self-identify I would check off "American Indian."

Unfortunately, my simple work-around pretty much ensured that an adequate impression of the problem was not made on me.  It took many years of education - both formal and informal - for me to grasp the dire consequences of the misclassification of Pacific Islanders.  Not only are Pacific Islanders underrepresented, but under this current system they are facing additional barriers to accessing higher education.  The result is that Pacific Islanders continue to be underrepresented and will likely fall further behind unless programs targeting underrepresented minorities are opened up to them.

Education has opened up many doors for me.  And as I alluded to earlier, I benefited from many programs geared towards underrepresented minorities.  They provided me with the support that I needed to become a high achieving student and professional.  Pacific Islanders, like American Indians, are underrepresented in higher education. The fact that I could qualify for certain scholarship and benefits for underrepresented minorities and Kawika (as a Native Hawaiian) would not qualify is inequitable.  Perhaps it is because of my legal background, but this inequity offends me and I want to change it.  The P.I.A. project will continue to educate institutions of higher education and programs targeting underrepresented minorities about Pacific Islander underrepresentation and the choices available to them to expand their programs to reach an equally deserving group of underrepresented minority students. 

Lorinda, Chief Legal Counsel and Financial Officer

Sunday, March 18, 2012

P.I.A. project Board Member Stories: Bryce

“Do Pacific Islanders count?”

This had been a lingering question that returned to my mind every year, just around the time to reapply for college financial aid. Each November through May throughout my college and graduate school years, I would intensely search the Internet for scholarships where I would have a fair chance of being selected. Along with the many scholarships open to the general population, I looked for those that were open to smaller groups that I was a part of, like first-generation college students and Hawaii high school graduates. I also looked at underrepresented minority scholarship programs, but despite being a member of an underrepresented group, it was unclear as to whether these programs were open to me.

As a Native Hawaiian, I knew that I was part of an underrepresented minority group. I knew that Pacific Islanders in general were underrepresented. But often scholarship programs didn't seem to agree... or did they not know? Not care? I couldn't tell.
I would look read the fine print of the applications, and the FAQs on their websites trying to answer my question: "Do I count as an underrepresented minority?"

For scholarships in general, I considered how to answer questions about race. I thought to myself: "What should I say? How do they classify Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders? Do they realize that we're underrepresented, or do they know about us at all? Will they count me as 'other'? Will they count me as Asian?  I knew we weren't listed among the included groups. We weren't listed at all. I returned to my answered question: "Did Pacific Islanders like me count?

My days as a scholarship-hunting undergrad are over, but the question remains for today's Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongans, and other Pacific Islander college students. Do we count?

For one particular scholarship that I had received, a service-component led me to volunteer at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Washington, DC Bureau. It was there that I had met Kawika Riley, who would go on to found the Pacific Islander Access project, first as a informal group, then as a nonprofit corporation. Having similar interests in serving the needs of the Hawaiian community through policy and political processes, we knew that if you want to fix a problem, you have to start talking about it. And someone needed to talk about this. Not just for Hawaiians, but for all Pacific Islanders.

Someone had to say: We are not "other." We are not an Asian sub-group. We are underrepresented, and we should be included alongside other underrepresented minorities. Someone has to say it.

My personal experiences in applying not only for scholarships, but other continuing education, leadership and development programs, sparked the motivation to get involved and make a change. This motivation continued my interest to volunteer with the Pacific Islander Access Project, which aims to improve the educational status for all Pacific Islanders. While I may not be able to single-handedly affect this type of change and create parity in education access, I know that my contributions to the P.I.A. Project will help pave a greater future for Pacific Islanders as an underrepresented minority group.

Through education and awareness, these organizations that intend to help underrepresented minorities can finally extend their opportunities to a deserving, underrepresented minority group that's been left out too often. This will help them reach more underrepresented minorities, and it will help Pacific Islanders reach our potential.

Bryce Mendez, Founding Board Member

Saturday, March 10, 2012

P.I.A. project Board Member Stories: Karin

Aloha 'oukou! My name is Karin Puanani Karpin, and I am the Vice President of the Pacific Islander Access project.  

From a young age, it has been clear to me that there is a powerful link between educational attainment and overall well being.  Even as a young child, I knew that I wanted the freedom and choice that comes with an education.  After graduating from Roosevelt High School in Honolulu, I was lucky enough to be accepted to The George Washington University.  Attending GWU has provided me with many great opportunities to network and develop critical professional skills.  In addition to these opportunities, being in DC has also allowed me to learn more about myself, far from home and beyond my comfort zone.  

GWU is a wonderful school, but it is not cheap.  When my family -- like so many others -- was affected by the recession, I needed to figure out how to stay at GWU.  Though I was fortunate to find support as a Liko A'e Scholar, I was surprised to find that financial aid opportunities for Native Hawaiians were much more limited than I had imagined.

As part of my scholarship, I was required to fulfill community service that bettered the Native Hawaiian community.  I wondered how I was going to do this from the East Coast.  Thanks to Bryce, I met Kawika, who offered me an internship at the P.I.A. project. My main project as an intern was to update a national study regarding Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander access to underrepresented minority scholarships and fellowships.  Kawika had conducted research in the area years ago, and started the P.I.A. project when he looked at a subset of the sample years later and realized that most programs were still excluding Pacific Islanders.  My job was to look at his entire study, and see exactly how things had changed.  

As I spent mornings, days, and nights updating the sample by finding how each academic programs defined "underrepresented minority," the reality began to dawn on me.  Some progress had occurred, but most programs were -- are -- still leaving Pacific Islanders out of their definition of eligible "underrepresented minorities." In calculating the final figures, I saw how Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are excluded from applying for millions of dollars in financial aid, and many opportunities for other kinds of support.  As a student and young woman who wants to spend her professional life bettering the health of the Native Hawaiian community, I continually study the link between health and educational attainment in my coursework.  Time and time again, data shows that educational attainment is positively associated with quality of life, health, and prosperity.  

Therefore, when Kawika offered me the chance to move from intern to board member, I accepted it in a heartbeat.  The P.I.A. project is an important cause and I want to be a part of our success.  I hope to see us elicit a positive change that will elevate the well being of all Pacific Islanders, including Native Hawaiians.  As an aspiring physician, I will continue to commit myself to this cause, hoping that future generations of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders will have all the higher education opportunities I have enjoyed -- as well as access to the many underrepresented minority scholarships and fellowships that we're currently excluded from. 

Mahalo Nui Loa for reading this post!

A Me Ke Aloha Pumehana,

Karin Puanani

Friday, March 02, 2012

P.I.A. project Board Member Stories: Kawika, Founder

Why does this issue matter to me?  I guess it started with a personal experience.  

As a college student, I learned about the exclusion of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders firsthand -- when I was told by a well-intentioned executive at an underrepresented minority program that "Native Hawaiians aren't considered underrepresented because Pacific Islanders are 'Asian Pacific Islanders'." That program changed its ways, but as a McNair Scholar, I learned that most underrepresented minority programs were making the same mistake across the nation, and it cost Pacific Islanders millions in financial aid.  

Years later, I revisited my research and found that while some progress had occurred, this was still a problem -- most underrepresented minority scholarships and fellowships still didn't recognize that Pacific Islanders were underrepresented.  I wanted to help these programs understand why they should include Pacific Islanders, so along with a small circle of friends, I founded the Pacific Islander Access project as an informal group.  We spoke at conferences, networked with other Pacific Islanders, and started this blog.  

In the fall of 2010, we went one step further, by turning our organization into a nonprofit corporation. Today, our blog is a one-stop shop with easy access to the facts about Pacific Islander underrepresentation. We also work to provide our readers with an understanding of America's Pacific Islander community.  Tomorrow, we will do more to reach out directly to the underrepresented minority programs that still exclude Pacific Islanders. 

We're a bare-bones operation, but what we lack in funding, we make up for elsewhere.  Luckily for me, I've been blessed to work with board members like Karin, Bryce, and Lorinda, as well as others who also believe enough in this issue to help us for free.

So, why does P.I.A. project's mission matter to me? 

Because nine years ago, I saw something wrong, and started trying to fix it.  

If I can be part of fixing this problem, doors that were closed to me will be open for tomorrow's Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islander college students, including my son, and maybe one day my grandchildren.  It will help the scholarships reach more underrepresented minorities. It will help Pacific Islanders reach their potential.  And it will play a small role in making our country better educated, better off, and better prepared for the future.