KCC chancellor candidate Charles Sasaki laughs with audience members before beginning his open forum. (Photo by Cameron Enomoto)

By Cameron Enomoto | Staff Writer

As a student who was able to listen to all four KCC chancellor candidates share at the open forum, I had the opportunity to hear some of their visions and experience that would help to shape a positive future for KCC. To read more about the candidates and their backgrounds visit the Kapio News story that was published last week. The main topics that the candidates focused on included the well-being of students, staff, and faculty, fundraising, and KCC as an indigenous-serving institute. These are my thoughts on the four candidates that are arranged in the order they spoke at the open forum.

Karen Lee: Karen Lee was the first candidate to speak at the open forum, and her previous work experience and credentials seemed promising. When addressing the well-being of people who are a part of the KCC community, Lee said that she would strive to advocate for professional development and positive morale by increasing her involvement with student leadership and working with staff to create the best higher education programs possible.

Working with student leadership as the chancellor is a step in the right direction, however, it’s important to consider that student leadership is not a complete reflection of the student body on and off campus. KCC has students like myself who mainly take asynchronous courses to make time for work and other responsibilities. There are also many international students who attend KCC. Getting out and talking to people around campus would be a way to increase exposure to student life or host a virtual event where students and staff can share their experiences. In doing so, the new chancellor would be able to see these things first hand versus word-of-mouth.

Charles Sasaki: One of the personality traits that caught my attention about Sasaki was his sense of humor. Throughout his allotted speaking time, he was constantly making the audience laugh, though he did so in a tactful way. His speaking was truthful, and it felt genuine when he explained his perspective and answered questions.

“I think that thinking about the way to take this institution [KCC] forward calls for difficult decisions,” Sasaki said. “I would really need to spend some time relearning this institution since my knowledge is not up to date. I would need folks’ help with that.”

Sasaki was the previous dean of Arts and Sciences at KCC and has been at Windward Community College since leaving the position eight years ago. In the statement he made about leading KCC to a brighter future, I admired his honesty about needing to relearn the campus first. Things change over time, and the new chancellor has to be able to acknowledge that change and work with others and lead responsibly.

Kendricks Hooker: Of the four candidates, Kendricks Hooker is the only one who does not have prior experience working in the UH system. During his open forum, he mentioned that this was his first time in Hawaiʻi. I was concerned when I heard this because Hawaiʻi is different from the continental U.S., and the communities here are very tight-knit. However, Hooker had an advantage because he would be able to bring in outside ideas to strengthen the programs we already have.

“We need students to be more involved,” Hooker said. “In my current position, I have an hour of time every day where anyone can come to see me without an appointment. That means students, staff, and faculty. We can talk about any concerns they have or if they just want to talk. I think that this kind of transparency is important.”

I was happy to hear that Hooker encourages student involvement in campus decision-making and makes himself available to hear feedback from everyone. Being open to learning new things is a great quality to have in a leader, especially so for someone who is unfamiliar with the culture and way of life in Hawaiʻi.

Misaki Takabayashi: Misaki Takabayshi is the candidate that I strongly support to be the next chancellor at KCC. She carried herself in a humble way, and she spoke proudly of her accomplishments and goals for the future. Of the four degrees Takabayashi holds, her Associate of Applied Science in Hawaiian Studies from Hawaiʻi Community College piqued my interest.

“It took me 10 years to get my associate degree,” Takabayashi said. “I had to balance my teaching and other responsibilities at the same time, but it was worth it because I understand more about Hawaiian values and the culture. These are aspects we need to incorporate into our teaching as well as encouraging the use of indigenous language on campus.”

As a Native Hawaiian student, I felt seen and appreciated by Takabayashi’s words. In my experience, this is the first time I have heard someone who is other than a Native Hawaiian voice such strong opinions about culture and language included in the curriculum. Additionally, Takabayashi had former students and community members speak words of encouragement during her forum.

“You are unique, I think, of the four candidates seeking the position here [KCC] to offer your strengths, so good luck to you,” said community member Ed Kuba, a UH Mānoa graduate who has been volunteering his time for the last 35 years across all 10 UH campuses.

Takabayashi was the only candidate to have audience members voice their support during the open forum, which shows how big her impact truly is and that she has the leadership skills necessary to connect with KCC and continue to help our community grow.