Kapua Kaulia was excited. She was worried. Despite jitters, she pushed forward in the fall of 2017 with her plans to attend Hawaiʻi Community College–Pālamanui even though she knew it would be tough attending college as a mother of five juggling both family and academics.
Three years later, Kaulia is one of 584 Hawaiʻi Community College students who earned associate degrees and certificates, and she’s ending her Hawaiʻi CC career with a list of impressive accomplishments: Dean’s List each semester, student worker, student government president and a member of two honor societies.
Kaulia, 37, said her college journey wouldn’t have been possible without her family’s support, which included everything from words of encouragement to childcare.
“I want to tell my mom and my family, mahalo for the love and support,” Kaulia said.
Earning her Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts and certificates in Human Services and Hawaiʻi Life Styles has special meaning for Kaulia and her family as she’s the first in her family to graduate from college.
“Everybody’s proud of me,” she said.
Kaulia, who was born and raised in Kona, wanted to attend college ever since Hawaiʻi CC outreach staff visited her school when she was in 9th grade.
“I always knew growing up that I needed to come to college, because they always say if you go to college you get paid better, so that’s kind of why I thought college was important,” she said.
However, the thought of enrolling seemed out of reach when she became a young mother.
Fast forward to 2017, and Kaulia learned about the Ēlama Program. The unique scholarship program provides intensive student support and the full cost of tuition, books and fees for the first year of college for students who are considered to have barriers to entering and succeeding in college. After that year, students who persist are given guidance on how to apply for other scholarships and financial aid. The “13th year” scholarship program is supported by Kamehameha Schools, the Kukio Community Fund at Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, the Oak Foundation and other organizations.
“I heard there was a scholarship that could help pay for me to go to college,” she said. “That’s what kind of ignited the fire: ‘Oh, I can come to school for free.’”
Bachelor’s degree plans
After graduation, it’s on to the next chapter, and for Kaulia that means enrolling in an online program with the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa to earn her bachelor’s degree in social work. Thanks to the University Center, West Hawaiʻi, she’ll be able to receive student support services at the Hawaiʻi CC–Pālamanui campus in Kona as she earns her bachelor’s degree.
Words from a classmate, Kalae Yonemura, inspired her to pursue social work.
“One day one of my classmates was like, ‘Hey, you know, you’re very good at helping people. You should be a social worker,’” Kaulia recalled. “From then on I just did that and made it my goal.”