By Lexus Yamashiro | Staff Writer
At the age of 17, Nāwa’a Napolean took off three months after graduating from high school and traveled to the islands of Rarotonga (the Cook Islands), Fiji, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga, and New Zealand. Although he was unsure of what his overall purpose was for his travels, he knew that he wanted to learn more about what occurred on the islands of Polynesia and Melanesia.
His travels did not play a role in his decision of attending college and what he would study, but rather because his mother insisted that he do so. Napolean’s family managed a canoe club, which he believed was his responsibility to paddle to keep this tradition going instead of attending college. However, Napolean recalled his mother waking him on his 18th birthday to fly him over to UH Hilo to begin school. His mother, who received three bachelor’s degrees, one master’s degree, and one Ph.D., believed that sending Napolean out of his two other siblings to school would be the best decision.
“There was no talk about me going to college at all, I mean, I never heard about it,” Napolean said. “Then it was my birthday and my mom, I guess as a birthday gift, snuck me out the house and took me to college and said ‘You know, we’ll figure out how you’re going to go to school.'”
Napolean spent four years at UH Hilo from 1987-1991, receiving his bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian Language. During his time on the Big Island, he believed that going away for college is what pushed him to complete his degree within four years without having to worry about family obligations such paddling, having to prep dinner, and other responsibilities.
In 1991, Napolean was notified that a job position opened for a lecturer in a Hawaiian Language course at KCC, which he gladly took up. He simultaneously worked as a lecturer at UH Mānoa, as well as Hale Kakoʻo Pūnana Leo, a Hawaiian language learning school where he created curriculum materials for the Hawaiian language preschool and translated textbooks for the upper grade levels.
After teaching for 15 years, Napolean decided to go back to school for his master’s degree at UH Mānoa, this time focusing his studies on Hawaiian Studies. He recalled having to take 16 undergraduate courses since some of the courses that he took while attending UH Hilo could not be carried over to UH Mānoa. Napolean recognizes this problem presently and said that he along with other administrators are working to improve this.
About halfway through his nine years spent at UH Mānoa, Napolean was informed that an opportunity to fill in the position as the chair of the Language, Linguistics, and Literature department at KCC was open. He originally applied with the hope that it would encourage other faculty members to do the same, but due to no competition, Napolean became the new chair in 2011.
“I just thought to myself that I could do a great job with, not too much promoting our faculty, but more supporting our faculty,” Napolean said. “Whatever their passion is for teaching, [I wanted to] really support them to make sure that that passion they had when they first began teaching continues on through their … entirety of their career as a teacher.”
In 2016, Napolean applied for the position as dean for Arts and Sciences and has held this position since August 1, 2016. After an enjoyable experience of being department chair, he believed that stepping up as dean meant that he could bring pride back to the campus and for its namesake, Queen Kapiʻolani, by sharing his knowledge of Hawaiian language and studies with students and faculty.
“Myself, being someone who can speak both languages, I think my main reason was to kind of bring her back to the campus, or back to the people in terms of that … now the campus actually has an administrator who can speak the two official languages of the state,” Napolean said.
As dean, one of Napolean’s many jobs is to support the various disciplines that faculty members fall in. Although he is only an expert mainly in the subject areas of Hawaiian language and studies, Napolean has been taking this challenge as an opportunity to make connections with the content that faculty members exercise in the classroom to what his areas of discipline are.
Having spent 26 years working at KCC, Napolean shared that the faculty members on campus have been doing a phenomenal job at ensuring the future of this world with inspired, graduated students. He shared what he once heard vice president of Community Colleges John Morton once say, that “10 percent of the top 10 percent of UH Mānoa graduates who graduated with BA degrees were from KCC.”
“We have great faculty, and when you have great faculty you end up with these really shining students who just do wonderful things,” Napoleon said.