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Interview with Walter Kahumoku III, Ph.D. and Lori Ideta, Ed.D. - University of Hawai’i at Mānoa

About Walter Kahumoku III, Ph.D.: Walter Kahumoku III is Co-Director of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s Ed.D. in Professional Educational Practice and the Executive Assistant to the Chancellor at UH West O’ahu. As Co-Director of the Ed.D. program at UH Mānoa, Dr. Kahumoku plays an instrumental role in the development of the Ed.D.’s curriculum and its productive partnerships with community organizations throughout Hawai’i. An impassioned advocate for bringing indigenous Hawaiian culture and educational practices into the classroom at all grade levels, Dr. Kahumoku has devoted 30 years to scholarship and program development that celebrate Hawaiian history, language, and traditions.

Prior to his role at UH Mānoa, Dr. Kahumoku served as the Director of the Kauhale Kīpaipai (Educator Professional Development) department of the Kamehameha Schools, where he developed a teacher induction program and an administrator leadership program.

Photo of Lori Ideta, Ed.D.About Lori Ideta, Ed.D.: Lori Ideta is Vice Provost for Student Success at UH Mānoa, where she also serves as Co-Director of the Ed.D. in Professional Educational Practice. As Vice Provost, Dr. Ideta develops and oversees programs to support students across the UH Mānoa campus. In addition, Dr. Ideta is a prolific scholar who specializes in qualitative research at the intersection of educational leadership, higher education, women in education, and Asian culture.

Dr. Ideta earned her Bachelor of Education, Masters of Education, and Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration from the UH Mānoa. Dr. Ideta has also conducted numerous workshops in Hawai’i, across the United States, and in Europe regarding diversity, leadership development, social justice, and conflict management.

Interview Questions

[] To Dr. Walter Kahumoku: Could you elaborate on your bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees? How did your past work as the Director of the Kauhale Kīpaipai Department for Kamehameha Schools influence your role as Co-Director of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s Ed.D. in Professional Educational Practice? Could you also elaborate on your development of a teacher induction program and an administrator leadership program when you served as Director of the Kauhale Kīpaipai Department, and your advocacy for integrating indigenous educational approaches in education at all levels?

[Dr. Walter Kahumoku] I got my doctorates in 2000 but have been working in Hawaiian education for 30 plus years. I am an advocate and proponent for education that returns us to a period of time when Native Hawaiian language, culture, and history were vibrant. A time when we had the sovereign right to control how we teach our young and how we work as an educational system from the time of being in the womb all the way through till our passing.

Those of us who have done a lot of work in Hawaiian education are advocates for the use of Hawaiian knowledge, Hawaiian language, Hawaiian history, and Hawaiian protocols, practices, and value systems because we’re also very cognizant of preparing our children for a future that may take them across the world or even onto other planets. It is important that we instill in them a real true sense of who they are as a Native, as an indigenous person from these islands in the middle of the Pacific.

My background is in school administration. My master’s degree is in educational administration, and I am a former K-12 administrator. Once I got my doctorates, I first began teaching for the University of Hawai’i’s College of Education out of two departments, Educational Administration and Educational Foundations.

Because I also was a part of an organization, the Kamehameha Schools, which funded a lot of initiatives, I got involved with the building of UH Mānoa’s Ed.D. program from the ground up, and my organization also funded it in its initial years as it started to operate. I was the liaison between my organization and the program itself. Serving as an outside person coming in to help fund, craft, and create the curriculum and the content is essentially how I found myself eventually at UH Mānoa.

Right now, I am shifting over from being what we call executive management. I am the executive assistant to a chancellor at one of our ten campuses and will now become the director of this Ed.D. program. Lori and I have been directing this program since 2018 when the previous director elected to move back to her home country to take a dean’s position. The dean of the College of Education then brought us in to help direct the program itself since we both have been a part of this program since its first cohort.

[] To Dr. Lori Ideta: Could you elaborate on your bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees, and how your experiences as a 3x alumnus of the University of Hawai’i shaped your career? What are your responsibilities as Vice Provost for Student Success at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and as Co-Director of the Ed.D. in Professional Educational Practice? May we also have more information on the leadership development workshops you have conducted in Hawai’i, across the U.S., and internationally?

[Dr. Lori Ideta] I am Japanese American and blessed to call Hawai’i home as a fourth generation person here in Hawai’i. I’m a first-generation college attendee. My mother in fact was a custodian here on campus at the University of Hawai’i, and she cleaned toilets and blackboards in order to put my brother and me through college. We’re so incredibly proud of her and all the sacrifices she made for us.

So, I never thought that I would attend college much less get a bachelor’s, a master’s, and then a doctorate degree. But there was something special about the University of Hawai’i. My home state university that welcomed me in and allowed me to realize that I was smart, that I could contribute, that I did have a voice, and that I could make a difference. My bachelor’s degree is in elementary education, a very admirable profession, but not a throwaway or a coincidence because every single one of my elementary school teachers was a Japanese American female. It wasn’t a coincidence that I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to be an astronaut or an actress because I didn’t see people who looked like me in those professions.

In college, I worked as a peer mentor. We were peer mentors before that term even existed. It was at the academic advising office where I realized that this was a profession, that you could work in higher education and actually impact students’ lives from the other side. My faculty mentors built upon this realization by encouraging me to get my master’s degree.

Like Walter, I got my master’s degree in educational administration, but my focus was on higher education with a particular focus on student services or student personnel administration. Again, it was my faculty mentors who said, “You need to do a doctorate degree.” They were talking to a first-generation college kid. I didn’t believe that they really thought I was smart enough to do a doctorate degree. Once I realized they were sincere, I did what every good Japanese girl does and applied because my sensei told me to apply.

I applied and chose to stay home for all of my degrees. I celebrate those decisions to this day. I’m so pleased to have remained home at the University of Hawai’i for all of my degrees. I was already working in the student affairs field here at the University and worked my way through several administrative positions and different campuses within the University of Hawai’i system. But I came back home here to Mānoa where I earned tenure as a faculty member. I also, like Walter, had the privilege to guest lecture or lecture within the departments of educational administration and educational foundations for several years.

12 years ago Walter called me and said, “I have this crazy idea.” And he does that often. It wasn’t a surprise. But this one was going to commit me for the next 12 years of my life. He said, “We’re launching this new Ed.D. program with Hunter McEwan” whom we both have a great affinity for. And he said, “I want you to come and be a part of it.” I was not a part of the design of the original program like Walter was from the beginning, but I did have the privilege of serving as a faculty member from the very beginning of cohort one. And we’re now getting into cohort five.

So, we’re really excited to continue this. And as Walter shared, when the director had stepped out, the dean of the College of Education, who’s also a faculty member in this program, looked at us and said, “We need you folks to take over.” We both have full-time jobs, but we said, “Okay, we’ll do it.” And so we’ve been partnering on this ever since. And as Walter shared, he’ll be taking over full-time in January and we’re very, very excited. My full-time job right now is Vice Provost for Student Success, and I’m the Senior Student Affairs Officer for the Mānoa campus.

I oversee all 19,000 students, and I love every single one of them. I have the traditional student affairs portfolio–everything from counseling and academic advising to residential life and career services, but I’ve always had a foot in teaching and engaging in scholarship. It keeps us honest in terms of our work. While sitting behind a desk and pushing through policy and working through budgets and the management of personnel issues are all important, it’s when we’re in the classroom that our souls really get filled. So it’s been a privilege and a pleasure to work with Walter on this program from the beginning, especially these last few years where we got to co-lead and co-direct the program together.

[] The University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s Doctor of Education in Professional Educational Practice joined the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED), and won the 2018 Program of the Year Award. What motivated you and your colleagues at UH Mānoa to connect with the CPED and to join the CPED consortium? Could you describe the application process to become a member of CPED?

[Dr. Walter Kahumoku] We started our program in 2011 and graduated the first cohort in 2014. As Lori alluded to, the initiation of this program started with Dr. Hunter McEwan, who has since retired. We are very honored to be a part of the initial crew of folks who sat together in 2009 and began thinking about a way to change the Ph.D. program into something that was much more about applied learning. We had a long history of folks who came through the Ph.D. programs in one of our six program areas, including educational administration and education foundations. A lot of them were returning to their employment as principals, classroom instructors, or as folks who were going to lead segments of or an entire higher education institution.

These folks were not interested in becoming a professor or doing research. They were interested in understanding how they could apply theories and concepts. They wanted a deep understanding of research as it pertains to what they do in their everyday professional lives. They were also deeply interested in how they could use research to revamp, maybe even transform, their workplace in ways that would help support the students who were there, their families, and even the larger community.

I think that this gives us a kind of driver, if you will, of social justice and back then, it wasn’t really called social justice. We were really focused on issues of equity, especially for Native Hawaiians who have been shut out of higher education since it started here in the state. But more importantly, you are hearing a background from Lori about those of us who also hail from immigrant status.

Lori is a Yonsei. I happen to also be Japanese. I’m half Japanese, half Hawaiian, and I’m a sensei third generation. My mother spoke a mix of Pidgin English and plantation Japanese because her mother primarily spoke Japanese and Pidgin. So, it’s an interesting and sometimes even dichotomous mix when we’re talking about indigeneity, indigenous rights, and an immigrant population or set of populations from different parts of Southeast Asia and Eastern Asia that have come to the islands and mixed in with the Native Hawaiian community. People have come from the continent, and now we’re having an influx of people from across the world come to these islands and make Hawai’i their home. That part of it is an important historical piece for the start of a program designed to support and uphold social justice–to deal with upholding justice and equity across the board.

So, what we found out when we first met with a number of key community stakeholders was that we were looking for a program that really would help our folks learn practical research skills. Students learn the theory but wanted to apply it to their practice in order to reset, transform, reform, or make education a much more thriving place for everyone. So, we started these conversations in 2009. There were about 30 folks who were sitting there representing a wide swath of education in the islands. We began designing from that standpoint around key indicators of success for a program that would take a step away from the traditional Ph.D.–the professorship with research and a teaching line–to one that was way more about practice and action.

Importantly, I think Hunter either had contact with the CPED by the time we got started or he connected with CPED during the time that we were assembled, as we started to trudge through all the university requirements. By the time we were building, developing, and then instituting a new program, Hunter was really caught up in the CPED framework and its general goals. He was coming back with a lot of great information from the CPED. I think the majority, if not all of us, were applauding where the Ed.D. program was headed. The program was going to take a very different course from the normal sort of doctoral degree, and we could see this becoming a really powerful tool to reshape education across the islands.

[Dr. Lori Ideta] I would like to add a College of Education historical perspective. I graduated in 1996 with my Ed.D., but back then, the College of Education at the University of Hawai’i only gave out Ed.D.s. The only program within the College that gave out a Ph.D. was educational psychology. Everyone else in the college automatically earned an Ed.D. But this is prior to the differentiation between a Ph.D. and an Ed.D. in terms of its scope and responsibilities.

I think a couple of years after I graduated, the College stopped giving out Ed.D.s and only awarded Ph.D.s. By the time Walter graduated, he earned a Ph.D., and then Hunter came along and said, “I want to carve out an Ed.D. with a focus on practitioners.” And so, that is just a little bit of historical background on the changes that have occurred within the College of Education, in order to provide that context.

[] The curriculum for the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s Ed.D. program features a combination of didactic coursework and field-based projects. How does this fieldwork prepare students of this program to investigate real problems of practice in their place of work, and to develop effective solutions to these problems? How did membership with the CPED consortium lead to changes in how UH Mānoa structured its Ed.D.’s dissertation requirement and the support students receive during their work on their research?

[Dr. Walter Kahumoku] We have two cornerstone capstones, if you will. The first one is called the consultancy project. There are three courses in research that are aligned around introducing students to research methods and practices, which takes them down this pathway to resolving a client’s project. The consultancy itself is where our students become consultants to this client around a problem of practice. So, now you’re starting to hear the pieces from CPED start to walk in there. This is really applied learning at its best. The consultancy is a year-long project.

The second capstone is writing an individual dissertation around a problem of practice that students are facing. So, the problem of practice is one of the critical pieces we try to encourage and address. People can write the dissertation in a more traditional form–gaining increased information and understanding about a particular phenomenon–or they could go to the extent of evaluating programs that are out there to try to resolve their problem of practice, and anything in between. So, it’s really up to the student.

The consultancy project acts like a preliminary dissertation. However, it’s a group project, so people split duties in ways amongst the group in order to build their skillsets, such as writing a literature review, writing a methodology chapter, and explaining the findings. It’s a good preparatory piece for the move to the individual dissertation. There are a lot of classes built around the execution of the consultancy project and then later the execution of the dissertation. This is where applied learning comes in, which will be critical. So, we have found that the curricular alignment pieces–the preparatory pieces up front, especially the three courses in research–are important here.

Later on, students start developing a much stronger conversation and exploration of social justice and what that means to them and their situation. There are three classes in leadership with a focus on social justice. Our courses are really geared toward helping students understand the context of social justice on a much wider scale. Then, students choose how they work with an organization to advance social justice through curriculum development, pedagogical practices, program assessment, and/or other methods of education leadership, evaluation, and improvement.

We get a wide range of students who come into the Ed.D. program, from folks who are in classrooms, in preschools, or in elementary schools all the way straight through to system folks who are part of our large Department of Education or current leaders in those ranks who are looking to earn an Ed.D. so they can advance their status and move into positions of much more authority. So, we get a wide spectrum of people. We even get people who come from community education, nonprofits, and community organizations.

[] The consultancy capstone is a unique element of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s Ed.D. program, and one that we have not seen in other programs. Could you elaborate on the consultancy?

[Dr. Walter Kahumoku] When Lori and I were talking with our colleagues at the CPED convening, we realized that we’re probably the only program out there that has a consultancy capstone like this. The first cohort went to look for projects to work on and then they clustered together in smaller teams around those project pieces. In some ways, some of the cohort members were actually the client. For instance, several students proposed a project and their friends from the cohort kind of gathered around them and they elected to work on this project together.

But by cohort two, the directors had done the outreach, and identified two different kinds of organizations that had problems they really wanted to solve. And that has been the approach we’ve used since then. What has been exciting, especially within the last couple of cohorts, is that when we reached out to folks to help us design a good problem and a project proposal, you can bet that there are more projects out there than we have time, energy, or number of graduate students to even deal with!

It has been wonderful to be able to do the consultancy capstone as a part of our service to our community. We can average somewhere in the vicinity of about 12 to 15 projects that get shaped, molded, and put together. Then the students will look at maybe 10 to 12 projects, and we will actually run anywhere from six to eight projects in a given cohort. This is how we whittle things down at the end because the students actually elect two or three projects that they’re really interested in.

Then given our viewpoint as directors, we along with our staff try to balance things out and send students to particular projects given their interests, balanced with what we need within the context of the project itself. So, there might be a K-12 person. There might be a higher education person. There might be somebody who is very much steeped in quantitative research while others are leaning toward qualitative research. We try to make sure that each group has a balance of different kinds of folks, people who don’t necessarily work with each other or are familiar with each other. It is a great chance to build a team, build a stronger cohort, and still be of service to our community.

[Dr. Lori Ideta] The consultancy project becomes almost like a team building or icebreaker activity that lasts a year for the cohort to really solidify. They start as complete strangers, but when they have group work right off the bat, they get to know each other well. And Walter is always so humble. He’s not giving himself enough credit. He does a lot of the work to encourage our community, the University, and educational partners to present a problem of practice for students to work on.

The coolest thing about this project is that it’s real. It’s not a theoretical case study that solves the world’s problems in 45 pages and is put on your professor’s desk. This is a real problem that exists within a real organization with real human beings, real buildings, and real politics. The students are put out there to help resolve that. I think the reality piece wakes students up a little bit and makes them definitely connect to the community.

We don’t exist in isolation. We are no longer the ivory tower. Again, such a hallmark of our Ed.D. program is to be connected to community. This way our community partners are very interested in us and send us some Ed.D. students in the future and always want to partner with us in building another problem of practice in the future. The relationship between higher education and our community in which we exist starts to strengthen through these projects, and solidifies the Ed.D. program within the community in a way that becomes so important. It’s really exciting to watch the students do phenomenal work.

[] Does the dissertation for this program feature a traditional five-chapter structure, or can students vary the structure of their project based on their specific problem of practice? What supports do they receive in their work on their dissertation and what form can it take?

[Dr. Lori Ideta] Yes to both of your questions. Students can definitely follow the traditional five-chapter, five-member committee, dissertation format. It’s welcomed. Again, we’re a research one university, so it’s well accepted. Many of our faculty will come from traditional departments, so they know it well and sort of expect it, which is never a bad thing.

We know that Ed.D. dissertations can look different–some may have more than five chapters, while others may not have chapters at all. Students can choose between having three people on their committee or five, and how the committee guides them and what their final dissertation presentation may look like can differ as well. It is all individualized to the student and their goals with this project.

We had a student from the past cohort who did research on a community that is indigenous to an area in Northern Japan. She did a traditional sort of dissertation defense but also did a performance as part of her final defense, which the committee completely responded to and welcomed. Walter has guided many non-traditional dissertations where chapters didn’t exist or they blended very differently where chapter one wasn’t the introduction and chapter five wasn’t the conclusions and recommendations. They looked very different.

We pride ourselves on being able to allow and nurture students as long as they articulate and address their problem of practice, and actually fulfill the standards of the work of the Ed.D. and of our expectations.

When we were teaching cohort one, we told students that they came to a non-traditional dissertation program. You don’t have to do the traditional dissertation. You can do a non-traditional dissertation. And they sat there going, “Okay.” At one point they asked, “What does a traditional one look like?” And we realized, “Oh yeah, you’ve never written a traditional dissertation.” So, now we present and prepare students for both since some might have an affinity to a more traditional structure.

We work really hard to ensure that the faculty whom we invite to be a part of this program are willing to go there. If we had a faculty member who responded with, “No, I have to have a five-chapter dissertation. I need five committee members. I’m not going to do things any differently,” I don’t think they would actually thrive in this program because we’re so about being responsive to students.

When Walter talks about social justice, we talk about it not just from the lens of what you do out there in the world but in the program as well. Sometimes depending on what pedagogy or lens you’re using to view your particular topic, the five-chapter dissertation may not work. Especially when you’re talking about indigenous knowledge and epistemologies, we have to be able to break down that Western standard and be able to embrace something different.

[] Annual convenings and discussions amongst Ed.D. program faculty nationwide are central to the CPED’s approach for advancing the Ed.D. How did the CPED’s annual convenings and workshops help you and your team to successfully revamp UH Mānoa’s Ed.D. in Professional Educational Practice? Do you and your colleagues continue to engage in these convenings and/or workshops with fellow CPED members?

[Dr. Lori Ideta] We’ve attended CPED convenings whenever possible. Even from Hawai’i, we definitely try to get to wherever the convenings are because we recognize how important it is to be nested in the convenings and meeting with partners as well. And we’re the University of Hawai’i, so we’re UH and we’ve become really close to the University of Houston, the other UH. I don’t believe in coincidences, so I think the universe put us at a table together at one of the convenings early on, and we will now consistently meet with each other and want to do much more partnership formally and informally around curriculum and revisiting assessment pieces together. These are the kinds of benefits that come out of the convenings. The workshops are also great.

The meetings have been substantial. Our connections with Jill [Jill A. Perry, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the CPED] and those that have come before her have been so important in terms of being able to guide us, not just on CPED principles, but also on everything else, from transforming the Ed.D. program and struggles that other universities might have in differentiating between the Ph.D. and the Ed.D., to whether the Ed.D. is gaining credibility or not on a campus, as opposed to Ph.D.s. As my grandfather always said, you don’t know what you don’t know. And so, we don’t often know what we don’t know until we get there and talk to colleagues.

Again, we thought everybody had a consultancy project or something similar as part of their curriculum. And to realize that we did and they don’t was revolutionary to us and something that we definitely can be proud of. I would say that I actually gained so much from those experiences by just being around other like-minded folks and being able to have conversations with them about other things. The way that CPED is able to roll out the standards for our organization and what’s required of us becomes critical and is always integrated.

It was in one of those sessions where I went to the dean’s council meeting on behalf of our dean and Walter was left to his own devices for an hour and a half. He went back to the hotel room and was inspired to transform the curriculum. The curriculum that we present now with our current cohort four is a result of the inspiration that we received when we were together at the convening.

[Dr. Walter Kahumoku] I’ll just add that we were inspired by a presentation by a team from North Carolina that was looking at dispositional characteristics of a successful Ed.D. student. Out of that came what we were looking for in terms our student learning outcomes (SLOs). We have six of them now.

The issues associated with social injustice have always permeated every fabric of our educational system, not just here on the islands but across the Pacific. So, that’s an important piece of it, but the wisdoms for SLOs have been a real turning point in the way we think about developing our students. I think the six wisdoms have allowed us an opportunity to think about how to develop students so that they’re exploring things, especially exploring the wisdoms that they already possess and looking at ways to enhance those wisdoms in themselves in order to move toward places of practice and places of action.

The six program student learning objectives are:

  • The first is praxis wisdom (the move to action);
  • The second is academic wisdom;
  • The third is collective wisdom (which is super important to those of us who are indigenously within the Pacific from Japanese to Samoans to Native Hawaiians to our American Indian tribes. They all have this idea about collective wisdom.);
  • The fourth wisdom is social justice;
  • The fifth wisdom is innovation; and
  • The sixth is spiritual/inner wisdom (by which we mean cultivating a way of knowing, a way of believing, a way of being that values and promotes peace and integrity, inspiration and compassion, sensitivity and reflection, resilience and efficaciousness.)

We are applying these wisdoms as a part of a way to gauge our program success. By the end of the program, hopefully students see these wisdoms in themselves in ways that maybe they never really thought about when they entered the program. We’re hoping that all of these wisdoms exist in people, but they get enhanced while being with us.

Now these wisdoms are a little different from the program outcomes because we have four program outcomes. One program outcome is to improve and ensure that both our institutional learning objectives (ILOs) and our student learning outcomes are evident and enhanced through the program itself. This is a higher-level way of thinking, but we’re really proud of these student learning objectives and these outcomes for students.

As we look at cohort five, we are now looking at ways to ensure that each course fulfills the SLOs and program outcomes. We think that the program outcomes are a product of the work that we do with our SLOs and combining that with our institutional learning objectives.

In five years, the Ed.D. program will develop and sustain a network of leaders who 1) engage in partnerships that inform and improve leadership, 2) work collaboratively toward action with a focus on social justice, 3) apply learning to improve practice, and 4) engage to advance social justice. These four are what we are hoping to see built and operational in five years. We just did this last year, so they’re important to us to see this to fruition in the next couple years.

[] For Dr. Kahumoku: You have devoted over 30 years to advocating for Culture Based Education and preserving and promoting indigenous educational approaches. Could you elaborate on how your commitment to relationship-based and responsible teaching within a context that celebrates Native Hawaiian culture helped you to shape University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s Ed.D.?

[Dr. Walter Kahumoku] I was at the Kamehameha Schools for 24 years. It is a trust-run institution that is dedicated to the education of Native Hawaiian students. Its primary work has been in PreK-12 education, but it has branched out to support community education, higher education, and nonprofits that are advocating for all kinds of different things associated with the health and well-being of Native Hawaiians.

I think over the last 30 years of my life, one of my big advocacies is the return to the use of our Hawaiian language. I am not a fluent speaker, and this comes from a history that essentially tried to stamp out the use of Hawaiian language by passing a number of different rulings, laws, and policies. My father, who grew up with Hawaiian as his first language, was beaten as a young child for speaking Hawaiian. And he would get caught in the school grounds and he and his friends would get whipped. He left school early on. He is not a high school graduate. He was pretty smart in terms of math, and his penmanship was flawless. I wish I could even match his penmanship. But he really thought education wasn’t really something for his children or himself. As we were starting to grow up, he forbade us from speaking Hawaiian in the household, so we grew up speaking English and Japanese because we had to communicate with our Japanese grandmother and my mother.

Of course, as young children, you’re also pretty interested when your parents are speaking in a certain language that you don’t understand, so your ears get attuned to it. And of course, I snuck on the phone and tried to listen in on conversations. My father was very close to his mother who lived on a different island. It was those instances when he would hop on the phone and talk to her that all of a sudden Hawaiian became the medium of exchange between the two of them. Even though we grew up in a bilingual house, we never heard the other language. It was the hidden other language.

I grew up trying to understand it, but I never took courses until I got to the university. I started to learn how to speak in Hawaiian and how to understand in Hawaiian. But when I would go home and try to practice with my father, he would reject my kind of Hawaiian because he called it book knowledge, “book-kind” Hawaiian. So, of course he was rejecting what I was saying. That is a prelude to why I’ve dedicated the last 30 years to indigenous education and in particular Hawaiian education.

I have had the honor of working alongside indigenous peoples from Norway. I’ve done a lot of work on the continent with our Native American brothers and sisters who are trying to save their languages. This whole movement toward trying to change the way our Hawaiian children are taught now comes from the belief that if we start at home with things that they are very accustomed to, that they see every day in their lives, and that they connect with very quickly because of their ancestral roots, we’re more apt to build bridges to new knowledge. If you teach in a way that is disconnected from your students’ lived experience, they will likely reject it because it has nothing to do with them.

One example of this is the age-old teaching of math using word problems that have very little, if nothing, to do with our island people. The traditional math problem of two trains passing from two different points. When will they meet? One is traveling at 50 miles an hour and the other is traveling at 60 miles an hour. We don’t have trains here. We had trains before, but they never met because they only ran on a single island circuit. And that disappeared from our lives probably a good 50-60 years ago.

So our local kids have little clue about what a train is unless they went to Disneyland and hopped on a monorail. If you went into a chemistry class and it was studying how water freezes, the word problem talks about snow and the acceleration of the snowflakes, kids are looking at us like, “What the heck is snow?” So instead of looking away, which has been our style of educating our children, we are trying to get them oriented with here: things that they know of, things that they know historically were true of this place, of this lifestyle, of these value systems, of this language that we use every day in our lives here, whether or not we’re Hawaiian. We start from that vantage point with things that are relevant and meaningful to them, and then we branch that out into the rest of the world.

So, that’s been my life’s work. I’ve worked with leaders and ran a leadership program out of Kamehameha. Its purpose was to help our leadership in our public education K-12 sector to understand what it means to teach in communities, what it means to lead schools in communities, and how to create environments that are enriching, thriving, and engaging rather than forcing kids to conform to Western modes of education and things that are very foreign to them.

Build the bridges from home to elsewhere. The kids will thrive. We’ve seen that happen now as a part of the Hawaiian culture-based education movement that started probably a good 30 years ago. We’re seeing some really powerful evidence now–statistical evidence that kids really start to perform academically well in math, reading comprehension, and writing if we apply Hawaiian culture-based education to their educational process. So, that is what I’ve been advocating for throughout my career.

[] For Dr. Ideta: Your research focuses on the intersection of leadership development, Asian culture, and women’s rights and equality within higher education. Could you elaborate on several of your recent research publications, and how your commitment to minority voices, diversity, social justice, and leadership development influenced your stewardship of UH Mānoa’s Ed.D. and its alignment with the CPED?

[Dr. Lori Ideta] I think for most of us, this isn’t just about scholarship. It’s about our identities, our passions, and our life’s calling. It’s beyond just the academic realm. I started by introducing myself as Yonsei or fourth generation Japanese American, and that’s always purposeful. One, I’m proud of my heritage. But also, our family has been here for 116 years, not 116 generations.

When you are Kanaka or Native Hawaiian, this has been your home for millennia. As long as our family has been here and as long as our family hopes to remain in Hawai’i, we recognize that we are colonial settlers here and that Hawai’i is not far out from its colonial history. The United States illegally occupied and overthrew the kingdom of Hawai’i 100 years ago. And it’s palpable in terms of being able to notice the remnants of that colonization on Hawai’i’s peoples.

Every time I hear Walter’s father’s story, it just brings tears to my eyes and reminds me of my responsibility as someone who has called Hawai’i home her entire life but isn’t indigenously from here. What then is my responsibility? How do I navigate that? How do I navigate that space and how do I teach others to help me rise up and to navigate?

When do we know that it is appropriate to walk behind our Native Hawaiian brothers and sisters and have their backs and push them forward? When is it appropriate to walk by their sides and hold their hands? When is it appropriate to put ourselves in front and be the ones that bear the brunt of the colonization and the racism that continues to come? And when does it make sense to absolutely just step out and not be present at all, because it’s the most powerful thing you can do?

I can talk for hours on that, but the work here and the work that draws me to this Ed.D. program is due to the call to social justice in our program, particularly because we’re at the University of Hawai’i, which is a Native Hawaiian serving institution, the only one in the world. The responsibility is huge. The burden is big, but the joy and the ability to step up is even bigger.

We try every day. I fail every day, but the only option is to keep trying and to work with people like Walter and other Kanaka scholars and others in our community to try to rectify some of the wrongs that have happened in our not-so-distant past. I hope that makes sense in a macro way. I could talk about the machinations of my interest, but in the context of this program, that’s really the work of my heart and my identity.

[] Where do you see the Ed.D. as a degree going in the next 20 years–how will it be different from its current iteration, what curricular components will be present that are not present now, and how will it combine professional knowledge, technical skill, and tactical evidence use? What challenges do you see the Ed.D. encountering as it seeks to change and improve?

[Dr. Walter Kahumoku] We have been plotting for the last couple of years to expand our reach into the Pacific and begin to help many of our cousins in other locales across the Pacific, especially those who are continuing the fight for sovereignty and the right to control and to really orchestrate their own educational systems in ways that will uphold their students’ cultural identities, whether or not that is today’s students or those who are born in the future.

The program is going to be centered on the indigeneity of peoples from across the Pacific. We hope to run the first cohort in a couple years. We first have to get through a number of different structural hurdles that come with being a part of an institution. But our hope is that it will be one of the programs that will begin servicing the needs of communities out there whether they are in Chile or Northern Japan, or those who live on Palau or Guam or Samoa or any place or locale across the Pacific.

We’re also trying to navigate a program design that will look at the principalship and really center on social justice principalships as a way to help our Department of Education here on the islands to make shifts, so that they not only teach and train but also operationalize their new principals out there in the field. That is probably a little bit farther down the line, but we’re probably going to put that in place in the next five to six years.

We are also hoping to bring a CPED convening here in the next couple of years. Lori is the queen of conferences and running those conferences. She wants us to do it, so we are going to bring CPED here because it’s the right thing to do. It’s time to bring CPED here and allow them the opportunity to see our social justice needs and achievements.

We still have issues of gender and sexuality and a whole slew of different kinds of challenges that we’re confronting that also appear in different ways on the continent or in other places, but have a very special look here. We’re not totally unique, but there are things about this place and the people who live in this place that can offer some helpful information, if not guidance, and opportunities to just talk. So, these are some of the things we’re trying to think about for the future.

Thank you, Dr. Kahumoku and Dr. Ideta, for your inspirational discussion of advocating for Native Hawaiian education and your work at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa to ensure the Ed.D. in Professional Educational Practice empowers the next generation of educational leaders!

About the Author: Kaitlin Louie is the Managing Editor of She specializes in writing in-depth content that helps students navigate important graduate school decisions. She earned her BA & MA in English from Stanford University.