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.


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