Writer: Keokolo Akina
When is UH West O‘ahu really going to open?
That question has been asked constantly with the anticipation of a brand new University of Hawai‘i campus opening up on the Leeward side of O‘ahu.
And the long awaited answer is: three more months.
Thirty-six years after UHWO began, it will be welcoming students onto its new campus in Kapolei for the opening of fall semester on August 20. The new and modern campus will have buildings for administration, classes, library, resource center, bookstore, and cafeteria. The campus is expected to host 7,600 students and 1,000 faculty and staff, which is quite a significant jump from its current enrollment of 1,500 at the portables located next to Leeward Community College.
“We’re excited that having a place of our own brings inherent opportunities that allow us to explore and develop new initiatives such as sustainability, both in curriculum areas as well as day-to-day practices,” Awakuni said. “We are building photovoltaic farms to help take our campus’ energy needs off the grid. Even our buildings, especially the classroom and lab buildings, have been designed to take advantage of the natural elements as much as possible. The glass windows allow more natural light through, thus cutting down on the amount of lighting needs during daylight hours.”
The new campus will be incorporating environmental sustainability into its building designs, making it one of the most sustainable campuses in the nation. Among the campus architecture and modern design is a stunning glass tower rising high above the naturally lit Campus Center. Buildings will be overlooking the Great Lawn, which encompasses the naturalistic theme of the campus and can host up to 6,500 people for large events such as commencement. Construction work is still being done on the campus that borders Farrington Highway and Kualakai Parkway (North-South Road).
“We’re also hoping to cultivate more partnerships with academic institutions like Tokai University which open the way to, we hope, international opportunities for our students and theirs,” Awakuni said.
Ariana Lemisio, who is transferring from Leeward to UHWO, is excited about her new campus and working in its library. She will major in sociology there.
“It’s awesome that the new campus is near to where I live, just three miles away,” said Lemisio, who currently works at Leeward’s library. “It’s exciting that West O‘ahu will have its own campus soon, since it’s just been on Leeward’s campus for so many years. Not only am I looking forward to seeing the structure of the new campus, but I’m excited to see the library. What is a school without its library?”
New programs at the campus include the Center for Creative Media, Center for Sustainability, Center for Health Sciences, and Center for Teacher Education.
The UH System Second Decade Report found that Leeward residents ranked the highest in need of education and training based on low college-attendance rates, low high school diploma and bachelor’s degree attainments, and low average income. It’s also one of the fastest growing areas of the state. Many businesses and homes have opened in Kapolei.
“The more immediate goal is to get the new campus opened as seamlessly as possible,” Awakuni said. “The longer term goals are a bit harder to achieve, but I think they are essential to the effective evolution of UHWO, especially in a region with the highest concentration of Native Hawaiians and under-served populations. We need to start incorporating excellence as a state of mind and way of being. We need to be entrepreneurial and innovative. We know that 21st century learning is focused today on interdisciplinary pursuits. And one of our greatest goals as an institution of higher learning is to cultivate social responsibility among our students, graduates, faculty and staff.”
UHWO will leave behind its current location next to Leeward Community College, as well as the portables used for offices and classrooms. UHWO began in 1976 as West O‘ahu College with just classes offered for juniors and seniors in Pearl City. It slowly grew into a four-year university but the campus’ boundaries never expanded.
“The biggest struggle for us has been the physical capacity to grow,” Awakuni said. “When we transitioned from a two-year to a four-year campus in 2007, we expected our enrollment to jump and it did. It has been a constant challenge to figure out how to accommodate any growth in enrollment.”
Another challenge of the new campus is to have the same small campus intimacy as the current one.
“In focus groups with students, faculty and staff, the number one concern that has come up consistently is the close working relationship between the different UHWO constituencies: students, faculty and staff,” he said. “We will do our best to perpetuate that at the new campus but I suspect this will always be a challenge.”
Lemisio is looking forward to new challenges at UHWO. Along with her job at the library, she served on Leeward’s Student Activities Board. During her time at Leeward, she got to know students, co-workers, and instructors.
“Staying busy and being exposed to a variety of tasks, all at the same time, can be difficult for the average person, but I love a challenge,” she said. “My next challenge will be West O‘ahu. I love Leeward’s library, but I think it is a lot more convenient for me to work at West O‘ahu’s library once the new campus opens because I live in the area and I attend the school. Why not work there too? I will never forget Leeward’s library and campus, but it’s time for new rewarding experiences.”
For a video tour of the new campus, visit www.youtube.com/uhwestoahu
Current campus photos by Paul Topp
New campus photos courtesy of Valentino Valdez, UH West O‘ahu.