Should a Hawaii High School Graduate Go to a Local or Mainland College?
Many say a UH business or law degree is a better ticket to success in Hawaii than a prestigious mainland degree
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Illustration: Andrew J. Catanzariti
Eric Yeaman runs Hawaiian Telcom, Gene Awakuni leads UH-West Oahu, Karl Fujii is VP and CFO of Hawaiian Building Maintenance, John Komeiji is senior VP and general counsel at Hawaiian Telcom, and Robbie Alm is executive VP at Hawaiian Electric.
The common thread? They’re all graduates of the University of Hawaii whose decision to stay home for college gave them networking and other advantages that helped lead to successful careers here.
These five wouldn’t deny the benefits of studying on the mainland or abroad, but they also all agree on the advantages of a Hawaii university education.
“Making all the contacts and growing up together, the University of Hawaii has served me very well in my professional life here,” says Komeiji. “I belonged to the student government, ASUH and, if I look around at some of the people I met – like Gene Awakuni and Brian Taniguchi, who is now a senator, and Guy Fujimura, a high-ranking official with the ILWU Local 142, and David Cole, formerly a huge AOL shareholder – I have called on all of them to talk about projects. Having the ability to pick up the phone and call people like these has helped me.
“That network, especially if you’re staying in Hawaii, is invaluable.”
The Hawaii Business Black Book indicates that the path these five men chose is the most common road to local success among people who are born in Hawaii and graduate from high school here. Nonetheless, the prestige and other lures of mainland colleges are powerful. After all, a degree from Princeton, Harvard, Yale or Stanford will always elicit keen interest from an employer in Hawaii - or anywhere else.
“There are some places where, if you show them a Harvard diploma, you may have an advantage with the first job,” says HECO’s Alm. “But the second (job) is based on how you perform. … (You can’t) get a lifetime of security by virtue of the school you go to.”
Alm says the “perennial debate” about where to attend college also has an extra dimension as many young people consider the choice of undergraduate and graduate school. Stay home for the first and go away for the second, or the reverse? While Alm studied political science at UH, then earned a JD at the University of Iowa, he says it was his time at UH that truly shaped his future.
“UH allows you to combine town and gown and get the best of both,” he says. “The opportunity is there to volunteer, be part of projects, work on a not-for-profit, and to intersect in Hawaii’s very people-based environment.
“I ended up doing two (full-time) internships during college, one working at the Legislature, and one at Dillingham Corp. working for William ‘Doc’ Stryker under the general supervision of Herb Cornuelle, who set it up. I talked to them on a regular basis and they threw me a bunch of issues to research important to Dillingham at the time. They treated me as if I was a full-time employee and had me write papers on a bunch of things. One of the people I interviewed was this young whipper-snapper just starting out at First Hawaiian Bank who they said was a guy I should meet, Walter Dods. Because of those internships I had the opportunity to be at the center of what was happening. That’s one of the advantages of being at home.”
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