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From left, UH President David Lassner, USA Funds Executive Vice President Carol D’Amico, Gov. David Ige and Project Lead The Way Senior Vice President David Dimmett.

Gov. David Ige today announced a state-wide initiative involving education, industry and nonprofit sectors to strengthen Hawaiʻi’s innovation economy and workforce and expand education and employment opportunities for state residents. Funded with grants totaling $6.8 million from nonprofit USA Funds®, the project aims to enhance and diversify Hawaiʻi’s economy, prepare residents for high-paying jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, strengthen teaching and learning of STEM subjects and address Hawaiʻi’s “brain drain” of talent to the mainland.

“This initiative will help prepare our students for careers in fast-growing segments of our state’s economy and expand high-quality employment opportunities for our residents,” Gov. Ige said. “I deeply appreciate the private sector’s investment in Hawaiʻi’s students, teachers and the University of Hawaiʻi. The investment will further build the state’s innovation economy and workforce.”

USA Funds, which has worked with state government and higher education institutions in Hawaiʻi since 1979, awarded the funds in keeping with its focus on promoting student success in college and career.

“This transformative initiative will help ensure 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. “Consistent with USA Funds’ focus on college Completion With a Purpose, this partnership will link student success in education to rewarding and fulfilling careers following graduation, while enhancing the state’s overall economic vitality.”

Implementing K–12 programs in computer, engineering or biomedical science

With nearly $2.2 million in funding from USA Funds, Project Lead The Way, a nonprofit that provides transformative learning experiences for K–12 students and teachers across all 50 states, will help at least 48 Hawaiʻi high schools implement programs in computer science, engineering or biomedical science. The initial group of high schools, which are being selected to participate in the project through a competitive process, will be announced later this month.

“Project Lead The Way currently partners with 30 schools in six complex areas in Hawaiʻi to deliver transformative learning experiences for students and teachers,” said Vince Bertram, Project Lead The Way president and chief executive officer. “Today, Project Lead The Way is honored to expand our partnership with schools in Hawaiʻi to empower more students with the knowledge and skills that will help them thrive in our evolving world.”

As part of the initiative, Project Lead The Way also will provide professional development support to teachers and work with local partners to ensure the materials and programs are culturally relevant.

Supporting UH’s STEM workforce initiative

An initial two-year grant of $4.6 million from USA Funds to the University of Hawaiʻi will support a multi-faceted economic and workforce development initiative, including the following components:

  • Promoting government, industry and education collaboration to determine current and future STEM workforce needs
  • Creating a continuous academic pathway in STEM fields through college
  • Supporting economic development and high-quality job creation through just-in-time workforce development
  • Improving information available to help students select the best path through education to STEM careers and help policymakers and educators better assess the outcomes of education and training programs

In addition, the University of Hawaiʻi will establish a STEM Center of Excellence, which will coordinate STEM-related activities across the state.

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 University of Hawaiʻi President David Lassner. “This initiative 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 program advances the Hawaiʻi Innovation Initiative, a public-private partnership to build a thriving innovation economy in the state and create living-wage jobs, and the Hawaiʻi Graduation Initiative, which aims to increase higher education opportunities and college completion, especially among Native Hawaiians and students from low-income households.

By 2017, Hawaiʻi is projected to need 16,000 more workers with STEM skills each year, but the state currently ranks 47th among the states in the number of STEM-related degrees awarded per 100,000 residents.

For additional information about the initiative, visit

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