The inaugural cohort of the Obama Foundation Leaders USA program features three with University of Hawaiʻi ties. Whitney Aragaki, Scott T. Nishimoto and Patrick Tiʻa Reid are among 100 selected to the program that provides an opportunity to learn new skills and tools to create positive and lasting change in their communities.
According to the Obama Foundation, the six-month program focuses on emerging leaders, 24–45 years old, who aim to drive systems-level change across sectors and issues, and have at least three years of demonstrated impact. The participants come from 37 states, Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Guam and five tribal nations.
The program will train participants in a values-driven leadership curriculum, action labs focused on strengthening democratic institutions and culture in the U.S., community groups for fostering constructive dialogue in a polarized environment and one-on-one support to help tackle pressing issues. Throughout the program, they will have the opportunity to engage with former President Barack Obama and other leadership coaches and subject matter experts.
Aragaki is a UH Mānoa College of Education doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum Studies, and was the 2022 Hawaiʻi State Teacher of the Year as an educator at her alma mater Waiākea High School in Hilo. She also earned a master of science degree in tropical conservation biology and environmental science from UH Hilo.
For her doctoral program, Aragaki is developing a high school biology curriculum that is grounded in aloha ʻāina (love of the land) through the investigation of how the learning experience transforms participants’ perspectives of self and sense of belonging and responsibility in science, community and the environment.
“I am excited to learn alongside leaders across the different public and private sectors across the U.S. I believe that our places shape our perspectives and identities, and the work that we are doing with the cohort demonstrates how impactful our places are to leadership,” Aragaki said. “The beauty of public schools—K–12 and higher education—is their proximity to the communities they serve. Having learned at UH Hilo and UH Mānoa, I am grateful for their unique place-based and community-focused ecosystems. I believe that a perspective of public service was cultivated in both learning experiences, and helps me to recommit to teaching year after year.”
Scott T. Nishimoto
Nishimoto earned his JD degree and bachelor of arts in English from UH Mānoa. After finishing law school, he followed his passion into the nonprofit world where he worked with adults with disabilities for nearly seven years at Abilities Unlimited. In his role as the vice president of workforce development and community relations, Nishimoto developed innovative programs designed to help adults with disabilities to gain employment, independence and dignity.
He is currently the executive director for Ceeds of Peace, an organization committed to raising peacebuilding leaders by creating community platforms and opportunities for adults and youth from a variety of backgrounds to work together in a collective pursuit to build sustainable, just and peaceful communities.
“As the father of young children who are both Native Hawaiian and descendants of immigrants, I see in them how far we’ve come as a community, but also how far we still have to go. I’m hoping my time in the Obama Leaders USA Program can help us to collaboratively move the needle,” Nishimoto said. “During my time at UH, I had the opportunity to learn from some brilliant professors who provided me with a solid foundation as a thinker, writer and communicator. From my fellow students at UH—one of the most diverse student bodies in the world—I learned about the diversity of the human condition and how to authentically connect with those who have differing beliefs, identities and backgrounds as my own. I carried all of these lessons into my work at Ceeds of Peace in our mission to raise peacebuilding leaders.”
Patrick Tiʻa Reid
Reid earned his bachelor of arts in political science from UH Mānoa. He is currently the public policy advisor to the American Samoa Government’s Office of the Governor. Reid held several other positions within the American Samoa government. He is the current chairman of the American Samoa Democratic Party.
“My undergraduate education and overall experience with the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa were absolutely foundational and directly impactful to the trajectory of my academic and professional career,” Reid said. “It planted the seeds that ignited my career in the public sector of American Samoa and the policy issues I am passionate about in my community.”
Reid said that he first attended a rally of then Sen. Obama in 2008 at Keʻehi Lagoon before he went on to become president. He calls becoming an Obama leader “a full circle moment.”
“I look forward to engaging with an inspiring slate of peers from across the country and learning from a values-based curriculum to develop my own leadership goals and to make more meaningful contributions in government and our community,” Reid said.
—By Marc Arakaki