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Three smiling students in chef hats
From left: Brysha Brown, Crystal Lawelawe and Kiana Kalima

A culinary class comprising three female inmates at the Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC) graduated on December 7 from the Kapiʻolani Community College Culinary Arts Program. To celebrate, they put on a special luncheon at the Kailua facility, featuring some of the savory and sweet, five-star quality cuisine they have learned to create. The class was taught by Chef Lee Shinsato of Kapiʻolani CC.

“It took them a while to figure out that they are actually University of Hawaiʻi college students, and one of the most important things they ended up learning is to really believe in themselves,” said Shinsato. “I always say this: ‘We mold and turn out better human beings that happen to have awesome cooking skills.’ I believe anybody can cook, anybody can learn something, but when you get the connection between the head and the heart, that’s a really big deal.”

Food on plates

Brysha Brown, Crystal Lawelawe and Kiana Kalima worked their way through beginner, intermediate and advanced level classes to make it to graduation day. They received a culinary program completion certificate from the Kapiʻolani CC and earned 14 credits that will appear in their UH transcripts.

“The culinary field is looking to hire, and this program is giving these women valuable and relevant job skills that can help them find instant employment when they leave,” said WCCC Warden Sean Ornellas. “We thank Chef Shinsato and the Kapiʻolani Community College for introducing this program to WCCC, giving the women a positive career path to pursue and teaching them teamwork, professionalism and self-esteem.”

The students not only learned the basics of culinary arts but also the skills that accompany a rigorous college course, such as: time management, study habits, completing assignments and the importance of showing up.


“When we say that education is transformative, this program is exactly that. It changes students’ lives,” said Kapiʻolani CC Chancellor Louise Pagotto. “The transformative power of education is visible in the faces of these students as they prepare and serve the food.”

Anyone who does not complete the final, advanced stage of certification before they leave the facility can choose to continue their culinary training at Kapiʻolani CC.

Graduation Luncheon Menu

  • Zucchini Roll-up Salad and Potato Leek Soup
  • Mini Okonomiyaki
  • Mini BLT Naan Bread
  • Mini Pork Laulau
  • Koala Moa w/ Argentinian Chimichurri Sauce
  • Banh Mi Pot Stickers and Somen
  • Ube Cheesecake Swirls
  • Coffee Infused Brownies
Students and instructors behind a table with food
The graduates with their culinary assistants (previous program graduates) and their chef instructors Warren Uchida (far left) and Lee Shinsato (far right)
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