University of Hawaiʻi William S. Richardson School of Law Associate Professor D. Kapuaʻala Sproat has been recognized with a major international award for her expertise in environmental law and her inspiring and dynamic teaching abilities.
Sproat, a member of the Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at the law school, is the recipient of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Academy of Environmental Law’s 2015 Distinguished Environmental Law Education Award in its Emerging Scholars Category.
In recognizing Sproat, the IUCN Academy cited her work in community service that combines classroom teaching as well as leading an environmental law clinic that offers students hands-on work with real clients. Professor Eric Yamamoto, who is the Fred T. Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice at the UH law school, nominated Sproat and emphasized her outstanding qualities, her ability to inspire students and her leadership in creating exceptional learning opportunities.
“She makes oftentimes overwhelmingly prosaic legal learning both exciting and relevant,” wrote Yamamoto. “She integrates path-forging indigenous peoples’ environmental justice scholarship and deep hands-on environmental litigation experience with an exceptional grasp of the linkage between the theoretical and the practical in law.” All that is overlaid, he continued, “with sensitivity for how students learn and develop personally and professionally.”
When she took the helm of the Environmental Law Clinic in 2007, said Yamamoto, “this clinic has been the only one of its kind at the law school to use place-based, project-based learning to address environmental and Native Hawaiian issues while also providing free legal advice to underserved communities.”
Yamamoto noted that the clinic has been remarkably effective in strengthening collaboration both within and beyond the law school. In fact, he added, the clinic has received $650,000 since 2011 from the State Office of Hawaiian Affairs to support travel, training and direct legal services in Hawaiʻi’s rural communities.
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Sproat has been at Richardson for eight years, during which time she won two Presidential Citations for Meritorious Teaching, the law school’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, and UH’s highest teaching award, the Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Teaching.
She is a graduate of Mills College and the Richardson Law School, and she joined Earthjustice as a staff attorney immediately after graduation in 1998. Nine years later she was lured back to Richardson as a member of Ka Huli Ao, and she has taught many subjects and written about water law and other topics in addition to running her clinic.
In addition to her outstanding teaching, outreach, and scholarship, Sproat recently co-authored and co-edited Native Hawaiian Law, a 1400-page treatise that covers the vast expanse of Native Hawaiian law in place throughout Hawaiʻi’s legal system, and also examines how Hawaiian law and custom interacts with western and international law.
Law School Dean Avi Soifer said, “Kapua Sproat is amazing and there can be no one more deserving of this prestigious international award. She teaches and serves others with remarkable effectiveness on a daily basis and she consistently does the law school proud, whether noticed or not for all that she accomplishes.”