Helping Students Reach Their Potential

By Amy Luersen, director of philanthropic services, Hawaii Community Foundation

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” -George Washington Carver

Nicole Bui, resident of Kalakaua Homes public housing, understands not only the doors that can be unlocked through education, but also the doors that can lock out individuals from fulfilling their potential.


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Amy Luersen, director of philanthropic services, Hawaii Community Foundation

As one of four children whose parents immigrated to Hawaii from Vietnam, Nicole has faced numerous hurdles in pursuing her dream to become a doctor. Thanks to her hard work and diligence, Nicole is a recipient of the Mitsuo Shito Public Housing scholarship and currently is majoring in chemistry at UH Manoa. She’s also the first in her family to attend college.

This scholarship was established by The Friends of Hawaii’s Public Housing, and is one of 170 scholarships at the Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF) established by generous individuals, businesses and organizations. Nicole was one of 1,600 students awarded a total of $4.2 million in scholarships last year, making HCF the third-largest private provider of post-secondary scholarships in the state.

HCF has seen an increase in the number of individuals seeking scholarships, including nontraditional students who are juggling families and jobs as they pursue their educational and career goals. Of today’s college students, 75 percent are balancing school with work and parenting responsibilities. Exacerbating the situation, financial aid for students is decreasing as the cost of education is mounting.

The impact of HCF scholarships is felt not only by the recipients, but also by the donors themselves – some of whom have experienced the difference that a scholarship can make.

“The Hawaii Community Foundation helps the people of Hawaii achieve their dreams – it certainly helped me achieve my dream of becoming an M.D.,” says Dr. Greg Sakamoto, HCF scholarship ambassador and former scholarship recipient.

Hawaii students can apply for a scholarship online by Feb. 22 at

Donors also can help Hawaii students by contributing to HCF’s Community Scholarship Fund or establishing a fund.

For more information, visit, or contact Amy at or 537-6333.