'They're So Inspiring': University Center students highlight online bachelor's and graduate degrees
Kona resident Yi Zheng Logan works a full-time job, an additional part-time job, is enrolled in a full-time bachelor’s degree program, while also raising her daughter.
It’s a constant juggling act and a lot of hard work, but she has plenty of motivation.
“I want what’s best for my daughter, what’s best for me and my family,” said Logan. “I would like to be successful and give back to the community, but before achieving this I need to be fulfilled and happy as an individual with steady career choices. I am also eager to set an example for other young women by continuing to do well in school and proving that nothing can stop me.”
Stories of grit and determination abound among the students who enroll through the University Center, West Hawai'i. The University Center is located at the Hawai'i Community College – Pālamanui campus in North Kona. It provides support services to local students as they enroll in online and hybrid degree programs offered by University of Hawai'i campuses throughout the state.
Many students are adults returning to college who must juggle responsibilities they wouldn’t have had right out of high school. Logan is earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa and plans to become a physician’s assistant through a program at another university.
Carrie Kuwada Phipps, an education specialist who advises students, gets emotional as she talks about the educational journeys they often take.
“I want to cry, they’re so inspiring,” said Phipps. “They’re not taking the easy way out. They’re putting in the work, the time, there’s a lot of sacrifice and they often have children and are married, sometimes they’re single mothers.”
The University Center allows students to pursue bachelor’s and graduate degrees without having to uproot themselves from their communities and move elsewhere.
Jessica Conner, who was born and raised in Kona and graduated from Konawaena High School in 2006, will soon complete her master’s degree in social work from UH Mānoa via distance learning.
“My life is set up here on the Big Island, so having to move to O‘ahu wouldn’t have been something I wanted to do, and I don’t think I would have,” Conner said. “For me it’s a privilege to continue living my life, working full-time and being able to provide for myself while getting an education from my home. It’s amazing.”
Conner and Logan began their college careers at Hawai'i CC – Pālamanui and then transferred to distance learning bachelor’s degree programs. It’s an education pathway that has grown in popularity the past six years. In 2015, there were 50 students enrolled through the University Center. Today there are 259.
“Every year the numbers have gradually gone up,” said Phipps.
There are over 60 distance learning degree and certificate options available to students locally, a number that has grown as the pandemic has moved more UH programs online. The goal is to continue expanding the number of distance learning academic programs that are available to Hawai‘i Island residents and offer the complementary student support services across Hawaii Island.
Learn more about the University Center, West Hawaii by visiting hawaii.hawaii.edu/universitycenter. You may also contact Carrie Kuwada Phipps at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The RISE Project, a nonprofit organization, has recently established scholarships that specifically target distance learning students at the University Center, West Hawai‘i. Jessica Conner and Yi Zheng Logan (see story at left) were the first-ever recipients of the scholarship last year. The deadline to apply for the next round of scholarships is March 31, 2021. To see eligibility requirements and apply, visit https://theriseprojecthawaii.com/