USA Funds has awarded a $4.6 million grant to the University of Hawaiʻi to help build Hawaiʻi’s innovation economy workforce and stem the state’s “brain drain.”

“Hawaiʻi’s centralized K–12 and higher education systems, which already work together closely, provide us with a unique opportunity to model for the nation how to use complex data and collaborate with business and government to understand and meet current and emerging workforce needs for an entire state,” said UH President David Lassner. “This will prepare our students so that they have the skills and expertise our state needs in high-wage and high-demand STEM fields. We are most grateful to USA Funds for its innovative vision and very generous investment in Hawaiʻi’s students and our workforce.”

The USA Funds grant will advance two key University of Hawaiʻi initiatives—the Hawaiʻi Innovation Initiative and the Hawaiʻi Graduation Initiative. It will enable the State of Hawaiʻi to create a model for understanding current and future workforce needs through partnerships among the public and private sectors including the Departments of Labor and Business/Economic Development/Tourism, the University of Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiʻi Department of Education, the Hawaiʻi Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaiʻi.

“This transformative initiative will build Hawaiʻi’s innovation economy and workforce, ensuring Hawaiʻi is able to create and attract the jobs of the future and fill these jobs with in-state talent,” said William D. Hansen, USA Funds president and CEO. “USA Funds is delighted to extend our five-decades-long partnership with Hawaiʻi by working with the University of Hawaiʻi in collaboration with the business community to ensure that the state has thousands of additional employees equipped with science, technology, math and engineering skills. Consistent with USA Funds focus on student Completion With a Purpose, this partnership will link student success in higher education to rewarding and fulfilling careers following graduation, while enhancing the state’s overall economic vitality.”

UH Community College students designing, fabricating and testing the Project Imua Payload that flew into space in 2015.

The grant will support the creation of a STEM Center of Excellence at the University of Hawaiʻi. This center will serve as a resource to coordinate STEM-related activities across the state. Efforts will include an Innovation Workforce Program that will provide rapid response training to meet immediate workforce needs. The center will also build and strengthen STEM Education Pathways from K–12 into community colleges and 4-year universities and provide students with the information and education they need for career success.

The USA Funds award will help UH and Hawaiʻi meet workforce needs by:

  • Implementing statewide industry, government and higher education collaboration to determine current and future workforce needs in the innovation and science, technology, engineering and math sectors.
  • Creating clear, continuous academic pathways in STEM education from middle school through university.
  • Enhancing Hawaiʻi’s student information systems to inform students and advisors of the most efficient STEM pathways to support timely completion and improve student outcomes.
  • Creating best practices in statewide workforce data collection and utilization, integrated with P–20 education data, to drive decision-making, measure outcomes and inform policy decisions for Hawaiʻi’s educational leadership and stakeholders.

“Our goal is to grow the STEM sector in Hawaiʻi and help alleviate the ʻbrain-drain’,” said Scott Murakami, the director of workforce development for the seven University of Hawaiʻi Community Colleges. “We are very grateful to USA Funds for providing resources to help us further our efforts to develop an industry responsive workforce and grow an innovation economy that benefits the entire state.”