Monday, May 17, 2004


Aaron Aina Akamu, left, is the program manager for the GEAR UP Scholars Program. He recently attended a college fair at the Convention Center with, front to back, Steven Karr, Theone Agliam, Brittany Kaleo Castillo and Tiffany Cordeiro from Leilehua High School.

GEAR UP gets lower-
income kids thinking
about college opportunities

A college graduate can earn $1 million more in his lifetime than someone with just a high school diploma. They also live longer, contribute more to their communities and have more opportunities to change careers.

Aaron Aina Akamu

Title: Program manager, GEAR UP Scholars Program

GEAR UP Hawaii: An early intervention college preparation program that works with low-income public schools and communities to get more of their students into college

However, students from low-income families and communities are five times less likely to go to college. This fact does not reflect the academic ability; many of these students get good grades and are active in their schools. It shows these students and their families lack resources, awareness of opportunities and access to help in preparing for college.

I manage the GEAR UP Scholars Program, which provides support and awareness for more than 4,000 GEAR UP scholars in 25 public high schools statewide. My program enrolls these students while they are in the 8th grade, and we work with them throughout high school.

The most rewarding part of my job is going out into the community and motivating parents and students to believe they can accomplish their dreams. Last summer I planned an event at UH Hilo called "Taste of College." There were inspirational speakers, campus tours and other activities. I was overwhelmed by how the event impacted students, as well as their parents. One parent said, "I did not get the chance to go to college because my parents had no knowledge of the process. I may want to go to college now."

I was born and raised in Naalehu on the Big Island, a very small plantation town. I left to attend Kamehameha in the 7th grade. After graduating, I attended Dartmouth College where I earned degrees in linguistics and theater. Coming from a low-income community, I understand the challenges my students face.

As the school year comes to a close, more than 10,000 students will graduate from a public high school. It is my hope that when my students graduate, they will all be heading to higher education. Then I will know that I did my job well.

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