Endless opportunities: West Hawaii students explore futures at College and Career Summit

  • Hawaii Community College - Palamanui counselor Wailani Walker, left, and University of Hawaii at Hilo admissions counselor Michelle Cooper, center, talk with Katrina Whalen during the University of Hawaii System College and Career Summit on Friday. (Cameron Miculka/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii Community College – Palamanui opened its doors Friday to hundreds of local high school students and members of the community, giving them all a chance to learn about the career opportunities in their community as well as how to achieve them.

“For such a small school, they have a lot of opportunities for kids and people,” said Kaha‘i Ha‘i-Kelly, a ninth-grader at Ke Kula o Ehunuikaimalino.


“And it’s really convenient for people who can’t travel or move to the mainland,” added Malia Cagampang, also a student at the school.

Friday’s University of Hawaii System College and Career Summit marked the first of its kind at the West Hawaii campus in partnership with the Department of Education, and Raynette Haleamau-Kam, interim director for Hawaii Community College-Palamanui and the UH Center – West Hawaii, said the college is excited about the relationship it’s cultivating with schools in the area.

“That’s huge, because here you have higher education right here in the community working with the secondary education component as well as our elementary, middle-schoolers, et cetera,” she said. “It’s a match made in heaven, and that’s why we all should be doing this: working collaboratively to not only establish great relationships but also bring better opportunities for our students and of course the community as well.”

The summit was far more than a standard career fair. More than just connecting local students with potential careers, the event also connected them to academic programs from throughout the University of Hawaii system that could help students reach those goals.

“So the kids can visually see that, hey, if this is what you want to be when you grow up, this is the education, these are the guys you need to talk to who will help you get there,” said Haleamau-Kam.

There were six pathways in total giving those who came out to the event a chance to discover careers and programs in everything from arts and communication to health to public and human services.

Ha‘i-Kelly, 14, said he wanted to see what opportunities are out there for students going to school in the region.

“I don’t really know what I want to do yet,” he said, “So it was kind of just a good experience to see what they have to offer to us.”

Later in the day, the campus opened the event to the entire community, giving residents a chance to discover what the college has to offer to everyone.

Katrina Whalen, who’s lived in Kona all her life, came to the campus for the first time on Friday, she said.

She wasn’t planning to come to the summit, she said. Her friends were doing a prayer walk around the school, so she came with them and saw the event was going on.

Whalen said she spoke with admissions counselors, and she found them to be kind and helpful people.

“I love how it already feels like a family, even though I’m not planning to go here right now,” she said. “They have a really great atmosphere, very welcoming.”

Community Policing Officer Bryan Ellis, who spoke with students about pursuing careers in law enforcement, said it was a good opportunity to spark some interest in future police prospects and let them know what the requirements are.

“I think a lot of them, they might be a little bit interested,” he said. “But they probably have a lot of questions, so it’s good that we’re out here and we can answer a lot of their questions that they might have.”

Michele Ebersole, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s School of Education said the structure of the event makes the opportunities that are out there that much more tangible so they can see exactly what they need to do to accomplish their goals.

And having an event that shows the breadth of opportunities in the University of Hawaii system, she said, is great for West Hawaii and its residents.

“I think that’s important for kids to know that the options are right here,” she said.

Nancy Miller, a volunteer with the American Culinary Federation Kona-Kohala Chefs Association, said she hopes students take the opportunity to consider what they want as a career as well as the options that are available to them at Palamanui and through the University of Hawaii system.

“They don’t have to leave and go somewhere else … there’s work for people here,” she said. “And it’s career work with these big companies.”

Ebersole said local students who go on to become teachers in the local schools can have a big advantage given that they come already knowing the context of the community in which their students are learning.

“They know who the kids are, they can relate to the kids on a personal level as well as a professional level — that whole idea: we’re one island community,” she said. “And you know the parents in the community, you know their uncles and aunties. And I think there’s a tremendous advantage to that coming in as an educator.”


Haleamau-Kam also spoke to the benefits of giving local students a place in their community to continue on with their education so they want to stay and work here.

“It’s about educating our own so we can keep our own grassroots right here,” she said. “So when a job opportunity comes up, we don’t have to go to the mainland and recruit somebody from the mainland. We can grow our own.”

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