Gator News

Building community through GRC’s Pono Program

By Philip Denman, College Relations, May 23, 2024

There are many words within the Hawaiian language that hold deep meaning, cultural significances, and can encapsulate a feeling. Many are familiar with words and phrases such as aloha (hello / goodbye), ohana (family), and mahalo (thank you), but one of equal significance but perhaps less understood is pono.

According to the Hawaiian dictionary by Hawaiian scholar and educator Mary Kawena Pukui and Hawaiian language scholar Samuel Hoyt Elbert, there are eighty-three English translations for the word pono. One meaning, “righteousness” is attributed to King Kamehameha III who on July 31, 1843, said “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono”/ “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness” when the Hawaiian flag was once more raised after a brief period of unauthorized usurpation of authority by a British admiral. Another definition comes from Malcolm Naea Chun’s book, Pono, the Way of Living, which discusses how the concept of pono encapsulated “an overarching belief system that defines the right way to live.”

These definitions help capture the spirit of the mission of GRC’s Pono Program, which provides student support for domestic Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander (AANHPI) students and focuses on removing barriers students who are furthest from educational justice.

Made possible through federal funding from the Department of Education’s Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) grant, the Pono Program centers retention strategies needed for success throughout students' identity development and empowerment in community college.

Portrait of Pono Program Director Joan KingAccording to Dr. Joan King, GRC’s AANAPISI and Pono Project Director, the specific performance measures laid out by the grant include:

  • 3% increase of enrollment among all AAPI students annually
  • Each year, increase pass rates for gateway Math and English courses by 1 percentage points over baseline for AA students, and for PI students by 2
  • Increase AA students who earn 15 college credits in 1st term of enrollment by 1 percentage point and for PI students by 2 percentage points over baseline

King, a U.S. Air Force veteran and former fighter jet mechanic, first joined Green River College in 2022 as a student recovery specialist in the Center for Transformational Wellness before taking on her new role as AANAPISI Project Director in Feb. 2024. While navigating the bureaucracy of federal and collegiate budgets and operations can be challenging, the student outcomes and ability to focus on changing campus culture make it worthwhile.

Housed within the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), the Pono Program aims to increase academic support by stabilizing students in the community as it guides its students on a clear pathway to success. This is done through providing domestic AANHPI students with:

  • Cultural Activities/Workshops
  • College Coaching/Mentoring
  • Embedded Tutoring
  • Employment (plus our Summer Leadership Camp)
  • One-on-One Scholarship Navigation
  • Access to our Book Loan Program
  • Mental Health Support
  • AANHPI Community Referrals/Resources
  • Asian Pacific Islander courses in English, Film, American Ethnic Studies (AMES), and more.

More information about the objectives, activities, and strategies will be available through the AANAPISI Grant page on GatorNet (employee login required).

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