Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print Feed Feed

20 for the Next 20: People to Watch 2014

(page 3 of 8)

Erika Lacro

Erika Lacro in a classroom where auto mechanics is taught at Honolulu Community College.

Photo: Olivier Koning

Honolulu Community College
Age: 41

Expect an explosion of expanded programs and construction as Honolulu Community College ramps up its workforce training to provide young people with 21st-century skills. Also expect to see Erika Lacro enthusiastically leading the expansion and modernization.

Lacro has helped oversee a lot of developments in the two years since she became chancellor:

  • The Legislature allotted $38 million to build an Advanced Science and Training Center. “We’re teaching science in a building older than I am,” Lacro says, but soon that will change.
  • An enhanced relationship with Pearl Harbor to provide apprenticeship training in applied engineering for as many as 180 applicants annually - up from about 120 each year. That’s the workforce that keeps the base’s ships and subs in top condition.
  • Continuing growth of a high-tech recording studio built four years ago, which is considered the most modern in the state.
  • Establishment and growth of a program in construction management that aims to train those already working in the field for greater responsibilities.
  • Using social media to connect more meaningfully with students and other people at HCC. “Our campus is focusing on using all of social media to connect with students. We’re finding social networking indirectly enhances student learning,” she says.
  • Expansion of the three-year-old Jump Start program to give high school students an early start on technical training by taking college courses during high school.
  • Working on establishing a reverse transfer system for college credits so students can complete a two-year AA degree even if they‘ve transferred to UH-Manoa after just a year. If they end up not completing a four-year degree, says Lacro, the students will at least end up with an AA degree.

Somehow, during all this activity, she recently completed her Ph.D. in communication and information sciences. “I rarely give up on anything,” says Lacro.

Lacro is the principal investigator on a $25 million federal Department of Labor grant, and it’s her responsibility to make HCC the hub for funneling more funding into workforce-development training at all seven community colleges.

“Erika is an active and visible force in the local Kalihi-Palama community and in the larger Honolulu urban area,” says HCC’s faculty development coordinator Jerry Cerny. “She has an outstanding future for advanced leadership positions in the UH system.”


Rechung Fujihara

Rechung Fujihira stands next to the storage lockers at Box Jelly, Hawaii’s first coworking space.

Photo: David Croxford

CEO and “Enzyme,” Box Jelly
Age: 31

Rechung Fujihara has always marched to a different drummer.

His father is an African-American Tibetan-Buddhist-trained lama who grew up in Ewa Beach. His mother is a Tokyo-born interior designer. Fujihira credits his parents with fostering his creativity and opening his mind.

“They’re kind of hippie-ish parents,” says the 2000 Mid-Pacific Institute graduate, who is also dyslexic. “They exposed me to a lot of stuff. I never realized it while I was growing up, but I’m lucky.”

He and a Chaminade classmate, Tony Stanford, opened the Box Jelly, Hawaii’s first coworking space, in 2011 in Kakaako.

“It was originally going to be a pop-up. We planned to have a van and set up pop-up coworking spaces and disappear,” explains Fujihira. “We came up with the name since box jellyfish come in after the full moon, pop up, sting a bunch of people and disappear.”

Instead, they set up a permanent shop behind Fishcake, Fujihira’s mother’s eclectic furniture store. Box Jelly attracted creative types and budding entrepreneurs, including Chad Kahunahina. The founder of Experience Hawaii, an online activity-booking company, met Fujihira just as Box Jelly opened. He now looks to Fujihira as a trusted advisor.

“Rechung’s innovative and always looking for solutions,” explains Kahunahina. “At his age and this stage in his career, his networking is amazing. He’s comfortable with CEOs and those running mom-and-pop businesses. And he’s not afraid to make calls to connect people.”

Fujihira agrees that he enjoys making connections.

“I can help in the beginning phases when people are starting up,” he explains. “For those coming from the corporate world or are just out of school, I help them understand that the entrepreneurial mindset is going beyond the idea. The idea is important, but executing and sticking to it is harder.”

That’s what he’s doing with Box Jelly.

“I want Box Jelly to be a space where we can work on change and bring people with great ideas together. We need to hone in on what we already do here and how we can use best practices from around the world to make Hawaii a better place.” 


Amy Asselbaye

Board of Education,
Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center,
Island Brew Coffeehouse
Age: 43

Amy Asselbaye defies easy description. Best known as Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s former press secretary and chief of staff – a woman who started in his Washington, D.C., office right out of Florida State University – she is now deeply immersed in many aspects of Hawaii.

In Hawaii Kai, she and her husband, Charles, are part-owners of a coffee shop; downtown, she’s a newly appointed Board of Education member; on the Leeward Side, she’s responsible for helping the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center create a five-year plan for improving health in that area.

The latter role, she says, “is a focused effort to help build bridges and connect us to resources,” which includes writing grants and bringing disparate groups together. It also means tackling one of the coast’s biggest health problems – diabetes – using a $50,000 Kaiser Foundation grant to help create a plan to curb the disease among Native Hawaiians.

“Fifty percent of the children starting kindergarten on the Leeward Coast are either obese or severely obese,” says Asselbaye. “Native Hawaiians get chronic diseases eight years earlier (on average) than others in Hawaii.”

A mother with three children – ages 14, 11 and 8 – Asselbaye left the governor’s office in 2011 partly to help her husband, a master coffee roaster, to open his own coffee shop, but also to expand in new directions of her own and spend more time with her family. She says a poem from her 11-year-old spoke of seeing her mother “as if from a distance” and helped her realize the cost of her government career. She no longer flies back and forth to Washington as she did for the years she managed Abercrombie’s offices in D.C. and Hawaii.

Nowadays, her mornings include dropping off the two older children at school and then returning home for breakfast with the youngest before his drop-off.

“I want my children to know that it’s important to work on something you love,” Asselbaye says, “and I want to be able to make even a small difference.”

Asselbaye already has, says Karey Kapoi, CEO of Island Soul Entertainment, who nominated her for the 20 for the Next 20 honor. “Amy works tirelessly on behalf of others,” Kapoi says, constantly thinking about “how her work will affect our state today and moving forward. These things set her apart as a visionary for our state and a leader for the current generation.”

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

Add your comment:


Don't Miss an Issue!
Hawaii Business,March