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Million-dollar idea

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A new Economics pathway for minority students between Kapiʻolani Community College (KCC) and UH Mānoa is being created with a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). UH was one of only 10 universities nationwide to receive a five-year grant to support underrepresented groups at vulnerable career transition points who are most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The NSF held the competition for minority-serving institutions in Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research jurisdictions.

The project, “RII-BEC: Transcending Barriers to Success in Economics (TBSE) for Underrepresented Students: From COVID-Affected to Climate-Resilient,” aims to transfer 100 participants from disproportionately affected groups, including Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Filipinos and women.

The Economics Bridge Program will encourage students to take enriched introductory courses at KCC and qualify for tuition-free summer courses at the UH Mānoa campus. Student peer mentors and ambassadors will personalize the pathway from an associate’s degree to a baccalaureate, and to expedited graduate studies.

“In Hawaiʻi, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Filipino communities, and on women,” said Bob Franco, co-principal investigator and director of KCC’s Office for Institutional Effectiveness. “These four groups are also seriously underrepresented in the field of economics at UH Mānoa. At the same time, environmental challenges that are further exacerbated by climate change threaten these islands, wider Oceania and coastal communities in Asia and the Americas.”

TBSE adopts the concept of “Indigenous economics” to contextualize economics coursework and to provide student support services drawing on earlier NSF projects and previous federal investment in minority-serving programs. TBSE also leverages educational and research expertise at the two campuses.

“Economics has given me so many opportunities to make a difference in this world,” said Co-Principal Investigator Denise Eby Konan, UH Mānoa dean of the College of Social Sciences and Economics professor. “We need to expand our frameworks to include Indigenous and feminist knowledge and perspectives. This collaboration will provide a national model for economics education and draw in students who previously had not considered this major.”