Leaders Going Global
The inaugural Group of Wo Global Learning Champions will travel to New Zealand to support UH’s desire to be an indigenous-serving institution
Learning, many insist, never stops. And yet, in some ways, it really does. College and postgraduate studies are temporary and after that, life has this way of … well, getting in the way.
So it’s an admirable choice a person can make to devote their career to furthering the educational growth of others. Be it faculty or staff, all play a vital role in sustaining the value of higher education.
It’s a sentiment shared by brothers Jim and Bob Wo, who, through Robert and Betty Wo Family Foundation and James and Juanita C. Wo Family Foundation, funded University of Hawaii’s Wo Learning Champions in 2001. Geared toward those who work for UH’s seven community colleges, the program is intended to encourage and enrich the professional development of faculty and staff.
The program currently is on its 10th generation of Wo Learning Champions — representatives selected from each campus. Through the years, participating members have organized everything from lecture series to bigger events, such as an annual Wo Innovations in Learning Day, which last year was attended by 800 members from UH’s community colleges.
Beyond cultivating a group of systemwide leaders, the program ultimately has led to an overall deepening of relationships throughout the community colleges.
“There are all kinds of people who get picked to be representatives for their campuses, so they get to develop relationships from across all of the system,” says Louise Pagotto, Kapiolani Community College vice chancellor for academic affairs and convener of Wo Learning Champions since its inception.
“(It) is really important for them, so that we can keep alive the concept that community colleges have a special place and role and function in the development of communities.”
This year, James and Juanita C. Wo Foundation has added another component: global learning and leadership.
“Brother Bob and I have long believed that international education is critical to Hawaii’s success today and in the future,” states Jim Wo.
This year’s inaugural Wo Global Learning Champions are: Christine Quintana and Larissa Leslie, Hawaii Community College; Mary Hattori, Kapiolani Community College; Ryan Girard, Kauai Community College; Joyce Yamada and Liping Liu, UH Maui College; and Ellen Ishida-Babineau, Windward Community College.
The group, made up entirely of past Wo Learning Champions, will travel to New Zealand for a week starting March 20, where they will visit Waiariki Institute of Technology.
“Going global now just adds that whole other layer to their professional development, to the arch of their careers,” says Pagotto, adding that experiences gained in New Zealand also will support the university’s goal to become an indigenous-serving institution.
A set itinerary of the group’s activity has not yet been confirmed. But Pagotto expects that their visit will include learning and speaking with professionals there about student and instructional support. The group also is expecting to meet up with Hokule‘a before it departs New Zealand to continue its journey. All of this will be in addition to immersion in Maori culture.
Gaining a deeper understanding of cultural-immersive learning is exactly what Kauai Community College mathematics faculty member and Global Learning Champion Ryan Girard hopes to bring back.
“If we want to be a Native Hawaiian-serving institution, there’s probably a lot of good to be gained by taking a look at some Maori-serving institutions or the fact that they are working to infuse their culture,” he says.
“One of the takeaways that I hope to get from this is … a way to sort of make the curriculum a bit more culturally relevant,” Girard adds.
Only in its first year, the importance of this trip really will be to establish lasting global relationships. This is especially crucial for smaller community college campuses like Windward Community College that do not have the resources to support designated staff to offer international education on campus.
“We’re really hoping that we can provide some kind of mechanism or opportunities so that all our campuses will be able to access or be able to bring people to our campuses, as well as hopefully send out people to other campuses,” says Ellen Ishida-Babineau, global learning champion and WCC dean of academic affairs, Division I and academic support.
For these UH faculty and staff, New Zealand, it seems, really is the perfect environment to learn applicable methods of professional development. Maori culture is, after all, very similar to Hawaii’s.
“We’re cousins, very much so,” says Pagotto of the Islands’ historical relationship with Aotearoa, along with similarities in migrations, voyages and language.
And all of this would not be possible without the generosity of the Wo family.
“I think it’s a wonderful example of how the generosity of a donor can really pay dividends for an institution like a community college,” says Pagotto. “Community colleges are not really high profiled; they don’t do a lot of study abroad, certainly not for faculty, and Mr. Wo really understands the benefits of faculty looking at the way things are done elsewhere to deepen and enrich their own practice.”
It’s early yet to anticipate how exactly this group of Wo Global Learning Champions will apply their experiences to their respective universities. But they won’t return empty-handed.
“The ultimate goal, I think, is to bring back the lessons from Maori education to Hawaii,” says Pagotto, “and to see how we can implement those practices that we learn from them in the areas of instruction and support.”