UH degrees: ’78–’79 Kapiʻolani; BBA ’83, PD ’97 Mānoa
Career: Math teacher, Olomana School in Kailua
Service: Member, Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Hawaiʻi liaison for Thai military personnel to the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies
Family footsteps: Chulakote’s son now attends Kapiʻolani
Philosophy: In seeing the good in others, you develop the best in yourself
Hawaiʻi’s 2010 State Teacher of the Year nearly missed the opportunity to begin his own educational journey.
Wima Chulakote made his way to the United States believing “education was the only way out from farming in the rice paddies the rest of my life.” But his application to Kapiʻolani Community College was rejected because his score on the required English test was too low.
Chulakote’s sponsor arranged for him to meet with the college’s academic dean, who agreed to admit the young man for one semester. The stakes were high’if he did not do well, he had to leave. He persevered, made the dean’s list from his first semester and eventually matriculated to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
“Because the academic dean had faith in me and gave me a chance, I felt that I not only had to succeed in school, but I also felt compelled to do my best and eventually return the kindness. I owe a great deal to Kapiʻolani CC,” Chulakote says.
Small classes and patient instructors were key. The sense of ʻohana helped him build confidence in his speaking skills. “I felt blessed having instructors who understood my needs and were available to assist me whenever I needed help.” Now he conducts professional development for new teachers.
Keenly aware of the potential impact education can have on his students’ lives, Chulakote is passionate about his teaching assignment with at-risk kids. He meets with them anytime, any place to provide extra help. He instills belief in themselves and encourages them to pursue their dreams. As a result, 90 percent of his students pass the General Educational Development test math section.
A focused mind is the most powerful force in the universe, Chulakote tells young people. You cannot lose unless you quit trying.