College of Social Sciences, University of Hawaii at MānoaCollege Logo

Quiet dynamo


More CSS News

On first meeting him, Kamakana Aquino, 33, may seem like a low-key, mild-mannered kind of guy. But those who work with him at the College of Social Sciences and UH Mānoa know the reality: He is a passionate and driven advocate for higher education, especially among fellow Hawaiians.

In short, Aquino wants to make CSS a Hawaiian Place of Learning.

And he’s been successful at it, too – as evidenced by his 2022 Empowering ʻŌiwi Leadership (E OLA) Award from the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and Kamehameha Schools in the category of Education.

“I’m continually impressed and inspired by Kamakana’s leadership,” said Punihei Lipe, the UH Mānoa Native Hawaiian Affairs Program Officer who nominated him for E OLA. “He leads somewhat quietly yet with intention, focus and passion. He is always looking for ways to support students and his communities.”

Aquino credits his grandmother, Lucy Akau, for inspiring him while he was in high school. “It started from Kamehameha Schools, when I would attend many Waimānalo community meetings with her,” he said. At UH Mānoa, he participated in the College Opportunities Program, an entry-level freshman experience that promotes academic success via special housing and meal plans, courses, activities and advising.

Then, while an undergraduate in the Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, Aquino spent an inspiring semester in an exchange program at the University of Waikato in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Witnessing how the university acknowledged its responsibility to Māori ignited his own passion for Native Hawaiian empowerment. That led him to a Master’s in Educational Administration at UH Mānoa, and a Certificate in Online Learning and Teaching through UH Outreach College.

In 2018, he was hired as the first full-time coordinator of Hui ʻĀina Pilipili or the Native Hawaiian Initiative at CSS. “My primary duties are guiding the Initiative in collaboration with Native Hawaiian faculty; supporting departments in recruitment, retention and outreach efforts; and developing new programs and opportunities for Native Hawaiian students,” he said.

Aquino’s role has already led to accomplishments that include:

  • Receiving funding from the Provost’s Strategic Investment Initiative to create new internships for under-represented undergraduates, particularly Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students, to receive early career hands-on work experience. The program focuses on five career pathways: urban and regional planningpublic administration and nonprofits; geospatial information scienceanthropology and archaeology; and research/data.
  • Working with Kapiʻolani Community College on a bridge program to encourage more Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Filipinos and women to major in Economics.
  • Piloting a CSS faculty cohort to deftly navigate through a process of “indigenizing and decolonizing” the curriculum, so it better resonates with the values of Native Hawaiian and local students.

Another of Aquino’s “successes” is actually a recent behind-the-scenes secret: The E OLA award included a $2,500 cash award, which Aquino promptly gifted to the College during the 2022 UH “Giving Tuesday” fundraiser organized by UH Foundation. “I just wanted to contribute the award money to CSS, because I know it will positively impact our Initiative,” said Aquino in his characteristically low-key and unassuming way.

Added Lipe, “Kamakana is a quiet, determined, brilliant leader, and we all benefit because of his hard work.”

Grandma Lucy would be proud.

Support the Social Sciences Native Hawaiian Initiative.

Additional news stories from the College of Social Sciences.

Kamakanaokealoha Aquino
Kamakana Aquino