In 2019, after 15 years at the same Waikīkī hotel, front desk manager Christopher Sawai noticed that a lot of young recent college graduates going head-to-head with him for promotions were beating him and becoming his bosses.

hotel employees
Christopher Sawai, center, with hotel coworkers.

“I just decided it was time to move forward and the only way to do that was to earn a degree and progress as a person as well,” said Sawai, 42.

He saw that UH was offering an accelerated online associate in arts degree and liked that it afforded him the opportunity to work while earning his degree.

In fall 2019, Sawai became a member of the University of Hawaiʻi Community Colleges Accelerated Online AA Liberal Arts degree program’s first cohort. He was one of the lucky 40 who ended up with a spot out of 400 applicants. Currently furloughed, Sawai said he has used the time off to take other online classes offered by UH.

Juggling work and family

mom and daughter
Shareen Gill-Dhesi with daughter at Leeward CC Subway.

The relatively new AA online degree program provides more versatility for residents who hope to earn an AA degree even while possibly juggling work and raising a family. Shareen Gill-Dhesi works full-time as a management consultant and homeschools her daughters, who are five and two.

“For me personally, just being so busy with being a mom and work and everything, I think this is perfect for me because I think the way the programs are set up that it’s not overwhelming,” said Gill-Dhesi.

She and her mother opened up the first Subway at Leeward Community College in 2011, and when she saw the online degree program being offered, it “felt like home.”

Only 50 spots available

Applications are now open (PDF) for the fall 2020 cohort. Only 50 spots are available. Students have the flexibility of taking five-week online courses, one at a time, year round. The cohort is designed for students with few to no college credits.

The deadline to register is August 1, 2020. Resident tuition is $131 per credit. Out-of-state tuition is $345 per credit. Financial aid is available to those who qualify.

mom and daughters
Shareen Gill-Dhesi with daughters.

Students who sign up for the accelerated online AA program will take a specially selected series of classes from across UH’s seven community colleges and may graduate with their AA from Leeward Community College in December 2022. Jordan Lewton, online counselor at Leeward CC is available for questions at

“It’s never too late to start your path with education,” said Sawai, who is aiming to eventually earn a master’s degree in human resources. “Especially with what is happening in the world with COVID-19, maybe you are in a career that just may not be sustainable for the next few years. Maybe this is your opportunity to go back to school and rethink about a different career.”

Gill-Dhesi added, “The online degree program is accelerated, but it is very rewarding and it is manageable. I have a 4.0 GPA and I have a lot of other things going on. I think that if you set your mind to it, it is very much achievable and it is well worth your time and your money.”

—By Kelli Trifonovitch