group of students
High school students and mentors take a tour of UH West Oʻahu.

Twenty-five high school students from Oʻahu were selected to take part in College Camp, a week-long college access and career exploration opportunity, held May 28–June 3 at various college campuses across the island. The summer program has been a decade-long partnership between the Atherton YMCA and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and has hosted 650 students since 2012.

The 2022 College Camp included sophomore, junior and senior high school students from Farrington, McKinley, ʻAiea and Nānākuli, among others, who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or face economic barriers, such as youth in foster care, houseless youth, youth of incarcerated parents, and potential first-generation college students. The camp was free to all qualified participants thanks to the generosity of YMCA donors.

students at service project
Kori Kawagishi, Dylan Heath and Cuong Tran participate in a service project for Protect & Preserve Hawaiʻi.

The all-inclusive experience included campus tours of UH Mānoa, UH West Kapiʻolani Community College, Windward CC, Chaminade, Hawaiʻi Pacific University and Tokai University. Students also took part in various college preparatory workshops, a career night, an environmental community service project with Protect & Preserve Hawaiʻi, as well as an immersive college experience living in student housing at UH Mānoa’s student residence halls. In addition to the camp experience, participants gain access to the YMCA’s extensive network and programs, which can continue to connect them to their communities.

“I learned a lot of valuable lessons and skills that I will definitely be using in the future,” said Ivan Ellazar, a Farrington High School senior. “It really opened my eyes to more opportunities that I have here at home versus the education that I originally planned for myself on the mainland.”

“The students inspired me with their energy and college aspirations, and I cannot wait to see where they choose for their college careers,” said Nikki Chun, UH Mānoa vice provost for enrollment management, who participated in the career night networking event. “Any college would be lucky to have these talented students as part of their campus community, but we certainly hope they choose UH!”

Life-changing experiences

“It is incredible to think how many students have had the opportunity to alter their life trajectories, both the participants and the mentors thanks to College Camp,” said Cassidy Inamasu, executive director at the Atherton YMCA. “The knowledge and skills they’ve gained through the experience not only promotes higher education and lifelong learning, but a connectedness to a broader community.”

Inamasu said the partnership also enables current UH Mānoa students and former participants to develop their leadership skills, from fundraising, mentoring, reporting and video editing. “This year, the program was more student-led than it has ever been,” he said.

career night event
Nikki Chun speaks to students John Nocon (ʻAiea ) and Allan Jay Badua (Farrington) at Career Night.

Sherimae Murro, a public health major entering her final year at UH Mānoa who led this year’s program, said it was a “major success which has enriched my college learning experience.” Murro was also a former participant and served as a mentor for College Camp.

“College Camp has helped jumpstart the academic journeys for many high school students (including myself). I’m grateful it gives students the necessary tools, resources and guidance that they need to get ahead and take control of their own education,” said Murro. “There are a lot of fears around going to college, and College Camp helps young students navigate that uncertainty to make the best decision for their futures post-graduation. Although the program is only one week long, the students create bonds so deep with one another that they end up having a strong support system for a lifetime.”

Lori Ideta, UH Mānoa vice provost for student success, who has supported the program since its inception, said, “Each year, the Mānoa campus is delighted to present a certificate to each student participant that acknowledges their successful completion of College Camp and encourages them to keep striving for excellence (e.g., maintain their studies, GPAs and co-curricular activities) so that they can eventually apply to and be accepted into the UH ʻohana.”

“We know that our partnerships to support our future students will strengthen even further. We look forward to these increased collaborations and I am excited to welcome the College Camp students to Mānoa in the near future!” she added.

The Residences for Innovative Student Entrepreneurs, an innovation and entrepreneurship center/student housing facility on the site of the former Atherton YMCA, is currently being built. Atherton YMCA staff have officially moved into the Queen Liliʻuokalani Center for Student Services. For more information on College Camp and other programs, go to the Atherton YMCA website.

—by Arlene Abiang