A champion of Native Hawaiian students at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa has received a national award. Jennifer Māhealani Ah Sing Quirk was awarded the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Region VI Mid-Level Student Affairs Professional Award in November.
NASPA is a 13,000 member organization that focuses on professionals working within the field of student affairs in higher education. Quirk previously served as a staff and faculty member at Native Hawaiian Student Services (NHSS) and now serves as director of Graduate Professional Access (GPA) program of the Office of Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity (SEED).
“I am humbled by the support and recognition of my work by my students, peers and mentors in the field,” said Quirk. “This award is a collective win that has been made possible by amazing and generous kumu, family and friends who’ve mentored me, cared for my children while I hosted weekend/evening events, and provided me with invaluable advice/encouragement and professional/academic opportunities to grow and develop as an Indigenous, Kanaka ʻŌiwi student affairs professional and Educational Administration doctoral student. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my people.”
At NHSS, Quirk designed, coordinated and implemented a diverse array of student success programs, including an intensive summer bridge program for Native Hawaiian community college students transitioning from the UH community colleges to UH Mānoa. Through her efforts and those of collaborators across campus, the acceptance and retention rates of Native Hawaiian students increased dramatically.
In Quirk’s role as a co- curricular support specialist, she partnered with other student service units to incorporate Hawaiian ways of knowing into their student learning outcomes, develop culturally appropriate assessments, and provided professional development programs for co-curricular units. In doing so, she offered her students authentic place-based experiences grounded in the unique culture and traditions of Hawaiʻi.
Further, as a junior specialist in NHSS, she provided individualized advising and counseling support to students in the Makalapua Naʻauao program to ensure the academic success of this highly underrepresented population, which included her supervision of three professional staff at UH Hilo, UH Maui and UH West Oʻahu.
Currently, Quirk is tasked with guiding and supervising the Graduate Professional Access program (GPA) within SEED. Quirk assists students from various underrepresented backgrounds to pursue and complete graduate degrees through wraparound, co-curricular support integrating place-based and student-centered approaches.
“The biggest highlight for me thus far in my role as the director of GPA, has been the excited email, phone call or text I receive when students reach out to let me know they’ve been accepted into graduate programs,” Quirk said. “I absolutely love the excitement and joy they have when they tell me about it! I’m so happy and thrilled for them!”
Quirk designs and facilitates a graduate school exploration and preparation workshop series for undergraduate students and higher education professionals. In addition to ensuring student success in graduate school, she mentors students seeking to present their research at academic conferences.
To extend her reach and increase her impact on students, Quirk co-authored a federally funded Native Hawaiian Education Program grant totaling $2,017,746. She is the co-principal investigator and a program mentor for this Hilinehu Educational Leadership Advancement initiative, a partnership between the GPA program and the College of Education.