Our new Chancellor of the Hawaii Community College bikes to work.  That says volumes.  Although a newcomer who started in July 2016, Dr. Rachel Solemsaas fit right in and spoke with the ease, friendliness, and clarity of mission of a long-time fellow community member.  Through her vision, the HCC will inspire students of diverse backgrounds and abilities to reach higher, thereby strengthening our local workforce and families.
Dr. Rachel Solemsaas knows something about the difference education can make.  Her grandmother was the first in their family to get a college degree.  It becomes a matter of fact for each subsequent generation to go to college, but it's that first one that is the hardest.  How many Big Island families share this experience of a former HCC student:  "For me, I’m the first kid in my generation of the family that actually graduated from college, so it’s a big deal for the family. I see my other cousins saying, ‘Oh, wow, Tyrel’s graduated from college,’ and I see these younger cousins coming up through school and they’re just driving to go, because I set an example. There’s a big effect  on the family to see someone like myself climb the ranks and the ladder and get educated and a good job.” (Tyrel Cuyo, Land Surveyor Technician at HELCO, majored in the Architecture, Engineering & CAD Technologies program)
Dr. Rachel is from the Philippines so she knows something about being an underrepresented minority in the professional workforce.  She will encourage programs to reach out to underrepresented groups such as native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and Filipinos.  HCC welcomes all.  Anyone with desire has access to this opportunity; there is no entry requirement.  The school takes students from where they are and mentors them to where they need to be.  Most of the students are older, either working and trying to improve their position or retraining to change careers.  A fair percentage are veterans.  Students have a choice to use HCC as a stepping stone to further higher education or to obtain employable skills upon completing their degree or certificate at HCC.
There are many notable programs at HCC:
  • Model Home Project-- partnership with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for HCC students to design and build a low-cost home;
  • Elama Project-- partnership with the Hawaii Community Foundaiton Kukio Fund to provide financial, tutoring, mentoring, and moral support to Kona students from families who have never been to college and face financial or other barriers;
  • Expanded services islandwide with a new facility in West Hawaii at Palamanui, and learning centers at Ka'u and Hamakua;
  • Hands-on culinary arts program in Hilo and West Hawaii that operate on-campus restaurants and accredited by the American Culinary Federation;
  • Native Hawaiian Educational Leadership Program-- home to I ola Haloa Center for Hawaii Life Styles and internationally renown hula halau.