24 get UH MAs

Huswynn Abo, left, and three other University of Hawaii graduates, Rod Lanwe, Luislynn Katmel, and Mercy Calimlim, who were and are affiliated with Northern Islands High School, are pictured at their graduation last month in Majuro with former NIHS employee Dr. Natalie Nimmer, second from left. Natalie is now the associate director for the Pacific Masters in Education program at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, which the four graduated from late last month. Photo: Wilmer Joel.


Two dozen Marshallese who finished the two-year Pacific Masters in Education program at the University of Hawaii-Manoa graduated with their master’s degrees in Education in Curriculum Studies last week at the University of the South Pacific campus in Majuro.

There are two graduates who live in Ebeye and one person who lives in Wotje, but the majority of the 24 are Majuro residents. This is the third cohort since the program’s establishment in 2017.

The PACMED program came at the request of the then-Minister of Education, Hilda Heine, the first Marshallese to gain a doctoral degree by attaining her Doctor of Education Degree (DeD).

PACMED Director Dr. Deborah Zuercher called the graduates during the commencement exercise the “coconut cohort.” “Like the ni (coconut) tree, these candidates have swayed in strong winds” that included enduring the strong winds of Covid, learning to teach online, and facing medical emergencies, health challenges, and even the loss of beloved family members, she said.

She added that “they’ll serve as beacons of light and hope for the Marshall Islands.”

The graduate’s chosen spokesperson was Theresa Kijiner of the Ripit clan. Kijiner highlighted the courses she and the graduates studied, one of which is culturally centered.

The graduates have taken 30 graduate credits spread across 10 classes, according to PACMED Associate Director Natalie Nimmer, who spoke with the Journal. “These classes cover everything from curriculum development to qualitative research methods, and from educational technology to ethno-mathematics. Dr. Hilda Heine taught a class about climate leadership through the lens of education.”

She added that ​they want every class assignment to be relevant to RMI classrooms and the Public School System. “When they write lesson plans for class assignments, we expect them to actually teach those lesson plans in their classrooms,” she said. “We hope these place-based, culturally-sustaining lesson plans will be engaging and fun for students while providing powerful learning opportunities.”

In her special address, Dr. Laura Lynos, the vice-provost at UH Manoa, said that educators are like weavers who take ordinary things and make them into something even better. “Weaving, like education, circulates in the economy, but it is also those things that we hold dear and that are in the intimate spaces — the places we live, our homes.”

Keynote Speaker Education Minister Wilbur Heine challenged the government to place more Marshallese in the workforce and admitted that bringing in foreigners is an expensive process.

“Our objective is to have our countrymen educated and have more locals do the work,” he said.

Heine said he is not satisfied with the 64 Marshallese with master’s degrees since the establishment of PACMED. There is still work to be done, he said, adding that he spoke with the UH Mānoa administration and inquired about the possibility of creating a PHD program using the same concept, collaborating with the College of the Marshall Islands, and hopes that the Ministry of Finance would fund the endeavor.

A new cohort of 18 educators will join PACMED on August 4. Nimmer said that four work at CMI, one works for the Nitijela, and the remaining 13 work in the Public School System in roles ranging from Special Education Specialist in Assessment to classroom teachers to administrators.