Hawaiʻi Island high school students of Pacific Islander heritage attended a motivational conference in October at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. The 8th Pacific Youth Empowerment for Success (PacYES!) conference is an annual event designed to motivate, inspire and inform high school students of Pacific Island ethnicities—Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, Marshallese, Palauan, Pohnepein, Chuukese, Kosrean, Yapese and others—about future opportunities.
The event has changed names over the years but has always focused on motivating the students to plan for higher education, meaningful careers and community engagement. This year, the students learned about college and career opportunities and ways to build stronger cultural connections within their own communities. The theme of the conference was “Navigating Success.”
Student speaker Dwayne Anefal shared the challenges and triumphs of his personal journey to reach his goals. Among his many accomplishments, Anefal lived in China for seven years, learned the Mandarin language, and obtained a degree in Chinese. He is currently a senior at UH Hilo majoring in anthropology and earning a certificate in Pacific Islands studies.
More than 70 UH Hilo student volunteers coordinated the event. Students from various UH Hilo Pacific clubs served as motivational speakers and panelists at the conference workshops. Michael Bitter, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, challenged each high school student to talk with a UH Hilo volunteer.
“The cumulative success of previous PacYES events was evident…, as many of the UH Hilo volunteers were former PacYES participants and are now serving as inspirational role models,” said Joseph Genz, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the UH Hilo Islands of Opportunity Alliance program. “This expanding cycle of outreach, recruitment and retention is wonderful to see.”
This year’s PacYES conference was sponsored by Micronesians United-Big Island; the Islands of Opportunity Alliance; UH Hilo Department of Anthropology; UH Hilo Pacific Islands Studies certificate program; UH Mānoa Center for Pacific Islands Studies and the Office of Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity; County of Hawaiʻi Prosecutor’s Office; Hawaiʻi Department of Education; Rotary Club of Hilo Bay; Big Island Toyota and Gear Up.