January 2021

Denise Eby Konan

Denise Eby Konan, Dean

Message from the Dean

January 2021 signals a fresh slate and the hopeful launch of many good things. It’s a brand-new year, the beginning of the Spring 2021 semester, and an eager reboot to an unforgettable period in history. People were challenged, and I am so proud and grateful that our College of Social Sciences rose to the occasion.

Students, faculty, staff, alumni and supporters believe in what we are doing at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa: making a positive impact on academics, research and character-building. As the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

This high level of achievement is happening in a big way, as evidenced by the stories in this CSS newsletter. In Ethnic Studies, highly motivated undergraduates are saving time and tuition money as they make their way toward master’s degrees. In Economics, the department and UHERO are at the forefront of providing valuable data and guidance to the state’s public and business leaders. And in Anthropology, Professor Pat Kirch and his research/community team are unearthing revelational archaeological discoveries about Hawai‘i, which has resulted in the launch of a generous research fund. After you read their stories, join me in being inspired.

Welcome 2021. We are ready for you.

Denise Eby Konan
Dean, College of Social Sciences

The accelerated journey to a graduate degree

Kahōkū Hesia (top ) and
‘Ihilani Lasconia (bottom)

The accelerated journey to a graduate degree

Kahōkū Hesia and ʻIhilani Lasconia have many things in common. Both are bright and highly motivated undergraduates majoring in Ethnic Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. They hope to earn master’s degrees in educational administration to launch careers helping students. And both are taking the same newly instituted “shortcut” to a graduate degree – as members of the first cohort in the combined Bachelor’s and Master’s (BAM) Degree Pathway program in Ethnic Studies and Education.

In most cases, College of Social Sciences students can obtain their bachelor’s in Ethnic Studies and master’s in educational administration in five years, instead of the usual six, which positions graduates for success in an increasingly competitive job market, said Roderick Labrador, Ethnic Studies associate professor and program director. “Plus, another advantage is the ability to enroll in three graduate classes at the lower-cost undergraduate tuition, thereby saving thousands of dollars,” Labrador added.

Hesia, 24, and Lasconia, 22, are on the same pathway, although converging from different directions.

Hesia was born on Maui; moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, as a child; and returned to Oʻahu to attend Windward Community College in 2017. After earning her associate’s degree in liberal arts and Hawaiian studies in spring 2019, she transferred to UH Mānoa to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Ethnic Studies. She is an ardent supporter of helping marginalized groups and enhancing women’s equity. “I knew that I wanted to go to graduate school, but I relied heavily on scholarships and grants to support my academics. The BAM program allows me to save money and time,” Hesia said. “The faculty and students are very supportive. You are never alone.”

Lasconia was born and raised in windward Oʻahu, is the middle child of five sisters, and graduated from Kamehameha Schools Kapālama in 2017. She then enrolled at UH Mānoa and signed up for Ethnic Studies 101 in her very first semester, and is dedicated to supporting Indigenous rights and helping first-generation students. “I didn’t know anything about Ethnic Studies, but I found a tight-knit group of professors and students, and joined the Ethnic Studies Student Association,” said Lasconia. “When you have a community on campus that supports you, the likelihood that you are going to be successful increases exponentially.”

As part of their graduate fellowship training, Hesia and Lasconia taught Punahou high schoolers the craft of biographical storytelling last fall as part of a federally funded project, Pūowaina/Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific: Memorializing the Enshrined. In this pilot project, Punahou American Studies’ students wrote tributes to those interred at Punchbowl, which proved to be a valuable and profound learning experience for all.

For example, one of Hesia’s students was having trouble finding background info on his veteran, but he refused to give up. Said Hesia, “When he said he wanted to keep going, whether he found info or not, that was one of my proudest moments as a teacher. He continued on, and wrote a beautiful paper on what he could find.” Lasconia added that, during an online meeting when one of her students excitedly shared facts about the veteran she was profiling, Lasconia thought to herself, “Hmmm, this person sounds familiar – and it turned out to be my uncle! What a coincidence.”

Generating these kinds of life-changing moments is what BAM is all about, said Ty Tengan, Ethnic Studies chair. “As a department, we are helping to ground research and teaching in a tangible way through service to the community, and also giving our students the skills for success in their graduate programs and future careers as educators,” said Tengan. “It is a win-win for everyone.”

Tackling the challenges of a pandemic

Tackling the challenges of a pandemic

COVID-19 has brought the longest period of economic expansion in modern history to an abrupt halt. With the unprecedented pace and magnitude of decline in economic activity, the College of Social Sciences continues to be at the forefront of tracking economic data and providing guidance to Hawai‘i’s leaders through its twin powerhouses: the Department of Economics and UH Economic Research Organization (UHERO).

  • At UHERO, Executive Director Carl Bonham and research fellows Peter Fuleky and Justin Tyndall have developed the Economics Pulse, a weekly coincident index of economic activity in Hawaiʻi. In addition to data released by government agencies, the index incorporates data from private sources, and captures both the steep drop and sluggish recovery seen across many economic indicators in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. “In such a rapidly changing environment, making good business and public policy decisions require data that is as timely as possible,” said Fuleky.
  • In the Economics Department, Professor Ruben Juarez has been working on a community driven approach to mitigate COVID-19 disparities in Hawaiʻi’s vulnerable populations. Juarez will be directing a data coordination and evaluation center at CSS, thanks to a National Institutes of Health grant that is funding a community-led program called the Pacific Alliance Against COVID-19, which will empower educators and students as community health workers assess risk to the pandemic.
  • Economics Associate Professor Will Olney has been invited by the World Trade Organization to assess trade-related impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for Least Developed Countries (LDC). Working with Emily Blanchard at Dartmouth University in New Hampshire, Olney will co-author a paper on how COVID-19 has affected certain trade issues involving LDC, such as global supply chains, e-commerce, travel and tourism, and commodity trade.

Retired CSS Economics faculty also remain active. Professor Emeriti Sumner La Croix and James Mak have been busy writing, presenting and discussing strategies to navigate the recession and set the stage for growth and resilience of Hawaiʻi’s economy. “The pandemic has shown us that, while our welfare, economic recovery and future resilience are at great risk, a number of UHERO and Economics members, even our retirees, continue to step up,” said Sang-Hyop Lee, department chair. “I’m so proud that our economists are working hard and showing leadership at this challenging time.”

Agricultural terraces in Hālawa Valley on Molokaʻi.

Agricultural terraces in Hālawa Valley on Molokaʻi.

Patrick V. Kirch

Patrick V. Kirch

Kylie Tuitavuki

Kylie Tuitavuki

The hydraulic engineering genius of ancient Hawaiians

What did you do last summer? If you ask Anthropology Professor Patrick V. Kirch, the answer is that he spent five weeks on Molokaʻi, but not on vacation.

Kirch and a team of academic researchers, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa graduate students and Molokaʻi community volunteers were on a mission – an archaeological mission. In July and August 2020, expedition into the island’s Hālawa Valley uncovered evidence that ancient Hawaiian farmers may have used sophisticated engineering techniques to grow taro perhaps as early as 800 years ago.

It’s the latest feather in the cap of internationally renowned researcher Kirch, a giant in the field of Polynesian archaeology who joined the College of Social Sciences in 2019.

“Some of the most interesting finds were made at two sets of stone-faced terraces that appear to have been irrigated from side-valley streams in Pualaulau and Kapana,” said Kirch. “These smaller field systems were not like typical lo‘i (taro patches) found on the main valley floor, but rather were constructed in and around boulder fields, a remarkable kind of engineering. What's more, from our excavations it appears that the farmers who constructed these fields used a form of ‘hydraulic engineering’ to move sediments from the stream bed into the terraces, to build up soil that could then be planted in taro.”

The magnitude of that summer discovery was not lost on Anthropology graduate student Kylie Tuitavuki, who is benefiting from the amazing STEM training opportunity for Native Hawaiians and other underrepresented stakeholders in field settings. “I am a big proponent of community-based archaeology, and strongly believe that research should be done with and for the people,” said Tuitavuki. “The archaeology part was great, but the stories, histories and connections we made with community members was the best part of the field season. I was excited to be able to work in the region where my family is from.”

Archaeological survey and excavations took place in two of the valley's ‘ili or traditional land sections, Pualaulau and Kapana. The mapping revealed extensive sets of ancient agricultural terraces along with house sites and several agricultural heiau. Test excavations in these features yielded charcoal samples that are now being analyzed and radiocarbon dated, and will provide a chronology for the development of the valley’s agricultural system. Other samples are being analyzed for microscopic pollen, plant silica “skeletons” and starch grains to determine what crops were being grown.

The initial survey of the valley’s soils is being analyzed in the laboratory of co-lead Noa Lincoln, an associate researcher in the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources’ Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences. Also on the research team is co-lead Dr. Jillian Swift of Bishop Museum and a UH faculty affiliate; and UH graduate students Tuitavuki, Dolly Autufuga and Kepa Lyman. Assisting were several members of the local community, including Greg Solatorio and Catherine Aki, and volunteers from the ‘Āina Momona 501(c) (3).

The research is funded by a National Science Foundation grant, “Collaborative Research: Soils, Nutrient Cycles and the Development of Sustainable Hawaiian Valley Agro-ecosystems.”

Kirch’s team continues research in Hālawa Valley in the coming year, with the goal of understanding how the ancient “hydraulic engineers” of Hawaiʻi created sustainable and highly productive agricultural systems that endured for centuries. Said Kirch, “Nothing could be more relevant now than learning – from the record of the past – how to rebuild sustainable agriculture in Hawaiʻi nei.”

Arlen and Debra Prentice traveling in Antarctica.

Arlen and Debra Prentice traveling in Antarctica.

‘This is my way of giving back’

For Debra Prentice, giving back to the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa during one of the most challenging years in recent memory is testament to her lifelong interest in anthropology, her commitment to academic research and a friendship standing the test of time.

She and her husband recently established the Debra and Arlen Prentice Research Fund for Pacific Island Archaeology and Anthropology. Housed at the UH Foundation, the fund supports research currently conducted by UH Mānoa Anthropology Professor Patrick Kirch — a longtime friend of the Prentices. Their generous gift will provide support for a graduate research assistant and discretionary expenses so Kirch may concentrate fully on research for the next five years.

Debra was a graduate student at UH Mānoa in the late 1970s when she met Kirch, who had just returned to Honolulu from research work in Tonga. While Debra’s research interest was Polynesian societies, Kirch focused on historical anthropology, particularly archaeological excavation in the Pacific Islands.

Kirch, who was born and raised in Mānoa Valley, continued his work as a historical anthropologist and became one of the most respected in his field. His accolades are numerous and his research is prolific. Kirch’s career spanned many decades, from his apprenticeship at Bishop Museum, undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania, master’s and doctorate degrees from Yale University, to a longtime teaching career at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2019, he returned to the islands and joined the anthropology faculty as a professor in the College of Social Sciences.

Through it all, Debra’s appreciation and respect for Kirch’s research continued. “Although I left the field of anthropology in the late ’80s and moved into the business world, I continue to follow Pat’s work,” says Debra. “I am particularly fascinated by his holistic approach, blending oral traditions with the archaeological record.”

Kirch and his colleagues originally studied Hālawa Valley on Moloka‘i in 1969 to understand settlement patterns and ecological change, two new perspectives at the time, says Debra: “It looms large in Hawaiian prehistory as one of the earliest settlements in the islands. Pat’s research today allows him to continue unraveling the story, using new techniques and knowledge gained over decades of study.”

She continues, “Pat’s work is important. I firmly believe that in order to move forward and solve some of our challenges in today’s complex world, we need to understand our history, to know where we came from and how we got here. Prehistory can teach us so much.”

The Prentices, who now live in Montana, established the research fund at a crucial time when university funding is uncertain and scarce. “I fully understand how difficult it is to secure funding,” says Debra. “I couldn’t have continued my education and doctoral research without graduate fellowships at UH Mānoa. This is my way of giving back.”

Survey portends restaurant industry gloom

Survey portends restaurant industry gloom

More than half of Hawaiʻi’s restaurants will be forced to permanently close by April 2021 if tourism does not significantly increase, according to a survey by the Public Policy Center. In addition, 87% of those restaurateurs believe that, if their eateries fail, they will not be able to secure financing to start over.

The report explained, “If these assessments come to pass, not only will a vibrant portion of our state’s culture be silenced, but those members of our community with the skill and experience to resurrect the restaurant industry in a post-COVID environment will be locked out of doing so due to lack of ability to gain capital to restart.”

Results also indicated a strong perception statewide that government contact tracing has been ineffective, with less than 4% of restaurants seeing tangible results of the contact tracing efforts they have been directed to undertake. Also, a majority of restaurateurs have expressed “little” to “no” confidence in government decision-making in regards to COVID-19. Restaurant owners and managers, however, are not opposed to taking additional safety procedures if these would lead to a loosening of restrictions. The survey received 184 responses with slightly more than 50% of respondents operating restaurants solely on Oʻahu.

This is the Public Policy Center’s third report on Hawaiʻi’s restaurant industry during the COVID-19 quarantine. It is aimed to stimulate discussions and inspire a renewed partnership between the restaurant industry and government officials.

Jack Barile

Jack Barile

What motivates Americans to mask-up?

Wearing a face covering in public is dependent upon how often people observe others wearing them, according to national research. Other important motivating factors are among the findings of a study undertaken by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through lead author Jack Barile, interim director of the Social Science Research Institute, and multiple co-authors.

Surveyed were more than 1,000 U.S. adults, ages 18 and older, who are representative of the U.S. population by gender, age, region, race/ethnicity and education.

“In this study, we examined what motivators are behind an individual’s choice to wear or not wear a face covering in public,” said Barile, a Psychology associate professor. “This understanding is critical to developing successful messaging strategies to encourage acceptance and use of face coverings to prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.”

The study suggests that being female, perceived importance of others wanting the respondent to wear a face covering, confidence to wear a face covering and perceived importance of personal face covering use were all factors positively associated with intention to wear a face covering in public.

No evidence was found that a perceived susceptibility to becoming ill and a perceived severity of COVID-19 correlated with an increase in the intent to use a face covering in public.

“The survey allowed us to explore both the barriers and facilitators to the public’s use of face coverings, as well as to identify possible pathways through which the use of face coverings while in public could be increased among the U.S. population,” Barile said. “Based on our findings, it is possible that messaging strategies that focus on susceptibility to and severity of COVID-19 may not be as effective as targeting actions that influence individual intentions and social norms.”

The study was published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s flagship journal. It publishes original empirical articles on behavioral medicine and the integration of biological, psychosocial and behavioral factors and principles.

Who plans to get COVID-19 vaccine?

Who plans to get COVID-19 vaccinations?

While 54% of respondents in Hawaiʻi expect the COVID-19 pandemic to become worse in the next several months, only 44% plan to get a vaccine when it becomes available. That’s according to a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Public Policy Center report, based on a post-election November 2020 survey, which featured 616 respondents statewide.

The report revealed that 37% are still unsure if they will get the vaccine; the number of residents who said they will definitely get the vaccine declined by 7% since the center’s August 2020 survey. Men were more likely to say that they would definitely get the vaccine (54%) compared to women (34%); 56% of households with incomes over $150,000 said they will get a vaccine, while 28% of Hawaiʻi’s poorest households plan to receive one; and Republicans were more likely to report that they will not get the vaccine (26%) than Democrats (7%).

“It’s interesting that it’s actually declined since we asked the same question in August and I wasn’t expecting to see that,” said Colin Moore, Public Policy Center director and associate professor. “I suspect some of this has to do with a general sense of uncertainty in their confidence in the government right now.”

A majority of respondents (60%) agree that the pandemic has impacted the poor more than other groups and 47% said they feel it has increased inequality in the state. Fifty-four percent reported that they have a high level of concern with personal finances, and want to learn more about how people are adapting to economic pressures related to COVID-19, while 17% have considered returning to school for training and education.

Said Moore, “Seventeen percent is pretty big since this was a general population survey — not necessarily young people — so clearly this has caused a lot of people to think seriously about coming back to school.”

UHERO attracts $1.2M for economic recovery research

UHERO attracts $1.2M for economic recovery research

Critical University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization (UHERO) research to help Hawaiʻi on its path to economic recovery has received a boost of $1.2 million in private support.

Donors include Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, Bank of Hawaiʻi Foundation, Kamehameha Schools, First Hawaiian Bank Foundation, DGM Group, Hawaiian Electric Industries, Hawaiʻi Medical Service Association, Hawaiʻi Pacific Health, American Savings Bank, Stanford Carr Development, HPM Building Supply Foundation, First Insurance Charitable Foundation, Hawaiʻi Government Employees Association and Hawaiʻi State AFL–CIO, Island Insurance Foundation and Harold K.L. Castle Foundation.

The $1.2 million will enable UHERO to hire two full-time faculty and build capacity for applied research on the most pressing issues facing Hawaiʻi.

“Throughout the pandemic, businesses, nonprofits and public sector decision-makers have relied on us for our trusted and independent analysis of the Hawaiʻi economy,” said UHERO Executive Director Carl Bonham. “With the addition of these new team members, we will be able to sustain and grow our research efforts, and continue to help our state navigate through the current economic upheaval and the nascent recovery.”

Added Bank of Hawaii Chairman, President and CEO Peter Ho, “It is becoming increasingly evident that Hawaiʻi’s battle with the novel coronavirus and its aftermath will not be a sprint, but a marathon. Together, through innovative public-private partnerships, we will be able to meet the economic uncertainty armed with the best information to guide us to sustainable economic revival.”

UHERO was co-founded in the 1990s by four UH Mānoa Economics faculty members—Bonham, Byron Gangnes, Sumner La Croix and Denise Eby Konan, current dean of the College of Social Sciences.

“We are thankful to our community partners for their support of UHERO during the pandemic and into the future,” said Konan. “The primary goal of the College and its units has always been to provide evidence-based social sciences research that brings to light important data and analysis, so it can assist Hawaiʻi’s leaders in making informed policy and business decisions.”

Esports team scores national recognition

Esports team scores national recognition

Recent success in a nationwide tournament has earned the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Esports team a high national ranking and an invitation from a prominent organization.

The UH Mānoa Overwatch team is ranked No. 25 among 271 North American colleges and universities by college gaming company Tespa after wins over UC San Diego and Colorado State in the UCLA Summer Invitational Overwatch tournament in August 2020.

The performance also earned the team an invitation to participate in an inaugural college program with Cloud9, one of the largest professional esports organizations in North America. Students will engage with the organization through a series of events, including fireside chats; player development and tournaments; resume and professional development from Cloud9 mentors; and internship opportunities. UH Mānoa was chosen alongside schools such as UC Irvine, Boston University and the University of Texas at Arlington.

“My hopes are that this is the beginning of a longer-term relationship with Cloud9 and Uconnect (Cloud9 partner and an esports and gaming sponsorship marketplace), where UH students are given access to a growing network of students and young leaders from across the U.S. mainland who are working in the college and professional esports space,” said Nyle Sky Kauweloa, a communication and information sciences PhD student and head of the UH Mānoa Esports Task Force in the College of Social Sciences.

Kauweloa, a UH Mānoa’s Esports program leader, and Kevin Nguyen, a UH Mānoa Communications graduate and full-time UH Mānoa Esports program assistant, said the program currently fields teams for Overwatch, League of Legends, Rainbow Six, Super Smash Bros. and VALORANT, which recently defeated national powerhouse UC Irvine. Kauweloa also hopes to host a collegiate esports leadership conference in Hawaiʻi featuring major companies, such as Cloud9, Nvidia, Corsair, Twitch and Micro-Star International.

“While I am happy that we are ranked so high, I will not be satisfied until we become the best collegiate program in the country,” Nguyen said. “I can recognize the immense progress that the university and program has [achieved] since Sky and I started three years ago, but I want to continue to improve the program to become as meaningful to students as possible.”

Students interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to follow the team’s Twitter, Instagram and Discord pages, or email uh.esports@hawaii.edu.

In Memoriam

David Chandler

In Memoriam

The College extends its heartfelt condolences to the family of David Chandler, professor emeritus in the Department of Sociology. He was one of the original founders of the Neighborhood Justice Center, now known as the Mediation Center of the Pacific.

Student Corner

Student Corner

CARES federal aid for students

UH Mānoa students registered for the spring 2021 semester can apply for federal aid through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Funds may be used to pay for tuition and other college-related expenses. Apply by Sunday, January 31, 2021. Award money is expected to be issued in mid- to late-February 2021. See link for more information on this federal aid opportunity and to sign up for eRefund, which allows for transfer of funds electronically from one U.S. bank account to another.

CSS Roundup

CSS Roundup

Communications project earns $300,000 grant

A three-year project led by Brett Oppegaard, an associate professor in the School of Communications, has been awarded a $296,203 grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project will perform in-depth research on the founding principles of audio description, defined as the act of translating visual media into audible media for the blind or visually impaired.

National leader in Asian Studies

Anthropology Professor Christine Yano is serving as 2020-2021 president of the Association for Asian Studies. The non-profit, which is dedicated to the advancement of the field of Asian Studies through international exchange, networking, publications, research support and career development, is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.