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A Rock-solid Foundation At UHWO

The ‘Rock' behind University of Hawaii-West Oahu, chancellor Rockne Freitas PHOTO COURTESY UHWO

The ‘Rock’ behind University of Hawaii-West Oahu, chancellor Rockne Freitas PHOTO COURTESY UHWO

Building the Second City of Kapolei required a lot of hard work, collaboration, sacrifice and patience from many key stake-holders, residents and workers in the area through the years. Net result: The Estate of James Campbell’s dream of a vibrant, livable community is definitely coming to pass.

Every mayor and governor, along with area legislators and City Council members, has recognized the importance of the milestones and achievements that needed to be accomplished in order for such a quality community to come to fruition.

When I was mayor, I called for not just a Second City to be built out on the Ewa plains, but also for a great city to emerge. To underscore that commitment, I had regular cabinet meetings and many City functions staged in Kapolei, and included state government as part of what we did out there — a practice that has continued to present day.

Recognizing the importance of public input, there have been differences of opinions from time to time, especially on growth and development issues. The one major exception, where everyone preaches lokahi and pulls together on all fronts, is education, because everyone desires the best education system for themselves and their children. Although the state has more responsibility than the county for education, it is one of those no-brainer issues that one prioritizes irrespective of jurisdiction because of its importance to the community.

What has been a major pursuit on the part of the state is the development of a flagship university campus in East Kapolei. We showed the support of the City by advocating for a rail transit station at University of Hawaii-West Oahu (UHWO) so that, eventually, students and faculty would be able to travel from Kapolei to Manoa campuses, with convenient stops in between at Leeward Community College, Honolulu Community College and Hawaii Pacific University, for that matter. While there have been detractors of this project, residents and leaders from all segments of the Kapolei community never have equivocated in their pursuit of such a school.

It was a major objective for Gene Awakuni, past chancellor of UHWO, to champion the effort, and he worked diligently to garner support from all levels of government to start the construction phase.

Present chancellor Rockne Freitas is to be commended for his exceptional leadership in assembling a team and devising a five-year strategic plan that astutely addressed shortcomings of previous evaluations, and sets the stage to attract excellent faculty and quality academic programs built around an enhanced, student-centered environment. Freitas also is to be lauded for embracing a vision that seeks to draw from the best of our Native Hawaiian culture and environment.

The recent positive report that UHWO received its seven-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC) is uplifting news. It is a major statement that a quality learning environment housed in new facilities in a beautiful setting and environment has the potential to become a first-rate institution on former sugar cane lands. Students and their families, especially from the West side, will have the convenience of being educated where they live, work and play. And it certainly makes more and more sense to have a post-secondary college out in Kapolei, when you factor in the ever-increasing population shift to this part of Oahu.

The University of Hawaii system, state officials, especially in the Legislature and the people of West Oahu deserve the lion’s share of the credit for what has taken place thus far. But to alter the lines of distinguished poet Robert Frost, there are still “miles to go before we sleep.” WASC has laid out some specific objectives and goals for UHWO to accomplish in three years that could jeopardize accreditation if they are not fulfilled.

An accomplished full-time faculty is a major concern, noting that 70 percent are classified as part-time lecturers. More importantly, the absence of tenure-track faculty puts important initiatives, such as distance learning and actual classroom learning, at risk.

The bottom line is that the student experience at UHWO, where the student body is comprised of an inordinate number who are working as well as going to school, needs to translate into academic success.

The key is that Freitas aka “Rocky” is the right man in the right spot at the right time to lead UHWO. The former Kamehameha Schools all-star athlete is a member of Oregon State University’s Sports Hall of Fame and starred in the National Football League for 11 years, including an All-Pro year as an offensive tackle for the Detroit Lions.

He is living testimony that leadership learned through athletics provides a competitive advantage in developing team-work and a belief that nothing is impossible. He also possesses sterling academic credentials with a Ph.D. and M.Ed. in education from UH. Rocky is well-versed in and knowledgeable about the UH system, having served as chancellor of Hawaii Community College, UH associate athletic director, and UH vice president for student affairs and university/community relations — positions that provided him with substantive administrative experience.

As a former OHA trustee, Freitas knows his way around the state Capitol and has strong relationships in the big square building, which is critically important for any head of an organization that is dependent on state funding. He also is very much at ease in conversations with constituent groups that are drawn to UHWO from Kalihi to Waianae, or from Micronesia and Polynesia.

Freitas’ goal is to grow student enrollment from “2,700 to 3,000 students who will take their UHWO education as an incentive to be leaders and contributing members of the community.” He recognizes that the path for UHWO to achieve bigger and greater results is not going to be easy. But he knows that “in life, anything that is really worth doing is inevitably fraught with obstacles or naysayers reminding you that the task is impossible to achieve so give it up.”

Freitas’ life story is filled with personal examples of those who questioned whether he could make it big in the NFL or those who had difficulty envisioning him making the transition from achieving stardom on the football field to achieving excellence in the field of education. He is determined to build a rock-solid foundation from which to build upon, with “the kokua of the stakeholders, staff and students who have played an instrumental role since its inception, and the growing alumni base and new supporters believing in the cause in the years to come.”

For UHWO, the best is yet to come.