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With family, community and campus support, Hawai‘i CC – Pālamanui graduate thrives

Kapua Kaulia was excited. She was worried. Despite those jitters, she pushed forward in the fall of 2017 with her plans to attend Hawai‘i Community College – Pālamanui even though she knew it would be tough attending college as a mother of five juggling both family and academics.

Three years later, she’s one of 584 Hawai‘i Community College students earning associate degrees and certificates this year, and she’s ending her Hawai‘i CC career with a list of impressive accomplishments: Dean’s List each semester, student worker, student government president, a member of two honor societies.

Kaulia, 37, said her college journey wouldn’t have been possible without her family’s support, which included everything from words of encouragement to childcare.

“I want to tell my mom and my family, mahalo for the love and support,” Kaulia said.

Earning her Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts and certificates in Human Services and Hawai‘i Life Styles has special meaning for Kaulia and her family as she’s the first in her family to graduate from college.

“Everybody's proud of me,” she said. 

Ēlama Scholar

Kaulia, who was born and raised in Kona, wanted to attend college ever since Hawai‘i CC outreach staff, Kalei Haleamau-Kam and Pearla Haʻalilio, visited her school when she was in 9th grade.

“I always knew growing up that I needed to come to college, because they always say if you go to college you get paid better, so that’s kind of why I thought college was important,” she said.

She became a young mother, however, and the thought of enrolling seemed out of reach.

Fast forward to 2017, and Kaulia learned about the Ēlama Program. The unique scholarship program provides intensive student support and the full cost of tuition, books and fees for the first year of college for students who are considered to have barriers to entering and succeeding in college. After that year, students who persist are guided on how to apply for other scholarships and financial aid. The “13th year” scholarship program is supported by Kamehameha Schools, the Hawai'i Community Foundation, the Oak Foundation, and other organizations.

“I heard there was a scholarship that could help pay for me to go to college,” she said. “That’s what kind of ignited the fire: ‘Oh, I can come to school for free.’”

Strong Campus Community

Kaulia thrived as a member of the Hawai‘i CC – Pālamanui campus community.

“The work was hard, but I like all the people here,” she said. “The office administrators are really nice and very supportive. Whenever I asked for help they stepped up and helped me with whatever I needed to get done. The teachers are really nice, supportive, and understand that we as students, also have lives.”

Some of her most rewarding moments were as a student government leader, helping to organize events for fellow students.

“It was at times very stressful, but fun,” she said. “It’s just challenging, but I like challenges.”


As she concluded her final semester, the COVID-19 pandemic brought chaos to the community and to her studies. Classes moved online, her children were home from school, live commencement was postponed.

“It was very confusing,” she said. “It took a toll on me, I guess, because after that happened everybody had to stay home, and working from home is harder because the kids are all there and it was harder to focus on assignments. But it’s gone OK.”

She was looking forward to commencement but says she’s not too distressed and she plans to participate in Hawai‘i CC commencement ceremonies planned for fall.

“I’m a go-with-the-flow kind of person,” she said.

Bachelor’s Degree Plans

After graduation, it’s on to the next chapter, and for Kaulia that means enrolling in an online program with the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa to earn her bachelor’s degree in social work. Thanks to the University Center, West Hawai‘i, she’ll be able to receive student support services at the Hawai‘i CC – Pālamanui campus in Kona as she earns her bachelor's degree. 

Words from a classmate, Kalae Yonemura, inspired her to pursue social work.

“One day one of my classmates was like, ‘Hey, you know, you’re very good at helping people. You should be a social worker,’” Kaulia recalled. “From then on I just did that and made it my goal.”