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The high school pathway to diplomacy


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For young people, summer can be a time for fun in the sun. But for 30 Hawaiʻi high school students, July 2023 brought inspiration, camaraderie and a broadened worldview that, as one participant put it, “taught us how to think.” They were the inaugural cohort of the Academy for Hawaiʻi Intelligence Studies Summer Program (AHI-SP), a free four-week course offered to Hawaiʻi high school students through the Department of Political Science.

The high school juniors and seniors from the four major Hawaiian Islands, predominantly from public and charter schools, first met July 6 in an online class, Mondays to Fridays, for three weeks. They studied the basics of international relations and national intelligence, including power and contemporary world politics since 1945, with an emphasis on the U.S. role.

On the fourth week, the majority neighbor islanders flew into Honolulu to meet with industry experts; visit significant historical sites such as Iolani Palace and Pearl Harbor; and study and live in Lincoln Hall on the UH Mānoa campus. Expenses – including tuition/fees, airfare, on-campus housing and meals – were paid through the Pacific Intelligence and Innovation Initiative, a public-private partnership focused on developing a skilled workforce in Hawaiʻi.

On July 28, when the program participants walked across the stage to accept their participation certificates, they had also earned three college credits in Political Science. “POLS 120: Introduction to World Politics” is the first course in the Intelligence Studies course sequence currently under development by CSS.

“What’s really important is that the people of Hawaiʻi understand that this is one of the most dynamic regions in the world for international relations. But the unfortunate reality is that international relations is not something many people see as a career path here,” said Jairus Grove, AHI-SP program director, political science professor and department chair. “So we wanted to make sure that our high school students knew that they could be in national intelligence, in diplomacy, in international politics, and could become policy analysts and defense contractors where they live.”

The career pathway concept makes sense. Hawaiʻi grows its own doctors, lawyers and other professionals through graduates of the UH medical school, law school and other professional programs. But, until now, UH Mānoa hasn’t developed its own dedicated pipeline for foreign diplomats and national intelligence personnel.

AHI is determined to change all that starting at the local high school level. When applications opened up in April 2023, nearly 90 students applied. The aspirants were of diverse ethnicities, primarily from public and charter schools, mostly from the neighbor islands, and largely those who identified as female. The interest was so high that the inaugural class size was increased from 25 to 30, with a long waiting list of hopeful attendees.

“AHI is the perfect fit with the college’s ongoing commitment to support workforce development opportunities in the state,” said CSS Dean Denise Eby Konan. “Social sciences majors provide valuable perspectives, knowledge and skills that enhance the national intelligence community’s ability to understand human behavior, assess geopolitical landscapes, make informed decisions, and effectively communicate Intelligence to policymakers. Our rich heritage of interactions with the Asia Pacific region makes Hawaiʻi youth especially poised to approach intelligence studies with nuance and sophistication.”

Additional news stories from the College of Social Sciences.

Group shot of AHI-SP students in 2023 at Saunders Hall
AHI-SP participants at Saunders Hall with Professor Jairus Grove, at right. Sara Saastamoinen photo
Four high school students talking
AHI-SP participants, from left, Tasanee Cogliandro, Zack Masuda-Mercado, Vivienne Hill and Therese Nicolle Ignacio during a class discussion. Sara Saastamoinen photo
Professor leading discussion of high school students on lawn.
Professor Jairus Grove leads a class discussion among AHI-SP students on the lawn near Campus Center. Sara Saastamoinen photo
Student taking selfie of other students holding their certificates.
David Ikaika Simon takes a selfie with Gizelle Rodrigues, Trishelle-Joy Calzada and Wailana Hoopai in front, and Cole Carpenter in back, holding their AHI-SP participation certificates. Sara Saastamoinen photo