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  • Wednesday , 22 September 2021

Saltchuk Hawaiʻi boosts island professionals to new heights through distance MBA program

Kimo Haynes: ‘These scholarships are an investment in our community.’

In 2008, the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa created a Neighbor Island MBA program through its Shidler College of Business. Redesigned as a stand-alone Distance Learning Executive MBA (EMBA) program in 2012, Saltchuk’s Hawaiian operating companies continue to play a critical role in the success of the program, offering scholarships to working professionals pursuing graduate degrees that might be otherwise unattainable, allowing them to continue pursuing their careers in-state.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa is located in Hawaiʻi’s capital city of Honolulu on Oahu’s south shore. Shidler College of Business Dean Vance Roley started the Neighbor Island MBA program as a strategic initiative of the College.

“We have the only AACSB accredited MBA program in the State of Hawaiʻi, so we thought it was important to offer an MBA program to the Neighbor Islands,” Roley said. “(But) the first design of the program as the Neighbor Island MBA (didn’t work) well. We were broadcasting classes from our regular evening MBA classes on our campus. We were having challenges with the technology, and the program took three years instead of the traditional 21 months to complete. Our Neighbor Island students were on the verge of dropping out until we went to Glenn Hong at Young Brothers for some scholarship support. The first round of Saltchuk scholarships actually saved the program.”

Roley said Young Brothers agreed to provide scholarship support for the program, and the students finished. The College took a year to redesign the program and, in 2012, began offering the EMBA, a 22-month course for students with a bachelor’s degree and five years of work experience.

“It’s been a success ever since,” Roley said. “This is a hybrid program with an in-person residence week and once a month Saturday classes on Oahu. The rest of the program is delivered online to the Neighbor Islands. The scholarships have been a crucial part of the program. Our Neighbor Island students often cannot pay for an EMBA degree as readily as our Oahu students. The scholarships have made the program affordable. The students are working adults in Hawaiʻi who are studying to develop professionally in their careers in Hawaiʻi. The program is designed as an evening and weekend program, so these students continue their jobs in Hawaiʻi while pursuing their degrees. This is a great investment in the State of Hawaiʻi, particularly the Neighbor Islands. It is not an overstatement to say that this program would not have been a success without the support of Saltchuk and its Hawaiʻi companies.”

“As a family of companies we have been proud to partner with UH on this program for many years,” echoed Kimo Haynes, president of Hawaii Petroleum. “Since our companies came together in 2014 to provide grants, we have made $465,000 in scholarship funds available to students on the neighbor islands working toward their MBA. These scholarships are an investment in our community and it’s awesome to see the impacts these students are making.”

Megan Blazak

Megan Blazak grew up in New Jersey, completing her bachelor’s degree in English and Women’s Studies at Rutgers University.

“My dad is a tool-and-die machinist who runs Blazak Manufacturing, a short-run metal stamping factory started by my grandfather 65 years ago,” she said. “My mom is a medical technician who also graduated from Rutgers. I never had a clear idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. My parents always told me, ‘Whatever you do for work, do what you love because you will spend a lot of time at work in your life.’ When I enrolled at Rutgers, I knew I enjoyed writing, literature, and analysis, so I pursued coursework in humanities. A lot of English majors become teachers, journalists, academics, and creative writers, but I felt none of those fields was the right fit for me.”

After graduation, Blazak was selected to serve as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Poland for one year. When she returned, she moved to Hawaiʻi in 2013 to work in the nonprofit sector, volunteering for community service projects related to sustainability and rural development.

“Over time, I gained experience as a grant writer, and in a roundabout way have become a professional technical writer.”

Blazak currently works for a nonprofit organization called The Kohala Center (TKC), located on the Island of Hawaiʻi, as the Center’s Rural Economic Development Supervisor.

“We offer pro bono technical assistance to farmers, ranchers, and cooperatives across the islands to strengthen community-based food systems. In addition to project management, I primarily work as a development coach and help businesses, industry associations, and agricultural education organizations apply for federal grant programs.”

Blazak is also a student in the Distance Learning EMBA program at the Shidler College of Business and a recipient of a Saltchuk scholarship.

“I always knew I wanted to pursue a graduate degree and focused on gaining work experience after undergrad before deciding on my field of study,” she said. “We just wrapped up our second semester with courses about corporate finance, marketing, and digital transformation with IT. I am currently in a global brand marketing course for the summer and will soon have to select a company to focus on for my capstone project due in the spring. I will graduate in May 2022.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of in-person farmers’ markets, Blazak helped the Hilo County Farm Bureau launch a Farm to Car program serving East Hawaiʻi Island. The program offers an online farmers’ market shopping experience with fresh produce, meats, eggs, and value-added foods from more than 30 local farmers, ranchers, and producers. Volunteers pack orders for distribution to more than 60 customers each week in a contactless drive-thru format. The nonprofit program has generated more than $60,000 in sales for local producers, and Blazak said she’d applied many of the concepts and skills she learned in graduate school to manage this program.

“I am very fortunate and grateful to receive a scholarship from the Saltchuk Family of Companies. My Saltchuk scholarship is pivotal in helping me earn a world-class graduate education in business that otherwise would have been difficult financially and logistically since I live on a Neighbor Island. One of the reasons I waited to pursue school was the cost and finding a program that would allow me to continue working full-time. The Executive MBA program is perfect because the program is designed for working professionals. When I applied to Shidler College, the admissions director indicated that there were scholarships available for Neighbor Island students, which was a big selling point. I work in the nonprofit sector and do not have access to an employer tuition assistance program, so other sources of funding were very important in my decision to pursue my education at Shidler.”

Blazak said she hopes to stay and work in the state long-term. She and her partner recently opened a small business called Hawaiʻi Hardwood Services, a logging and wood milling operation that sells premium local hardwoods. Blazak also volunteers as the Treasurer of the Hilo County Farm Bureau.

“I would like to be promoted to an executive management position with an agency in Hawaiʻi while continuing to live in Hilo. My skills are in grant writing and project management, so the nonprofit sector is attractive to me; however, business school has opened my eyes to an array of possibilities beyond graduation. I definitely see my career advancing in Hawaiʻi and hope to use the network I have built through this program to support me in my journey.”

Yosef Ben Gershom

Yosef Ben Gershom moved to Maui when he was 11.

“Growing up, I was interested in video games, computers, technology, and engineering, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to study or work in.”

While in high school, Ben Gershom interned and volunteered to help out with various IT-related tasks while being mentored by the school’s IT systems administrator. After graduating, he was hired by his former high school to work part-time as an IT network systems administrator and simultaneously attended the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College.

“At that point, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue working in IT or get an electronics and computer engineering degree,” he said. “Although I enjoyed math and physics, I realized that the electronics and computer engineering degree offered didn’t match my interests. I completed an associate’s degree in Liberal Arts and started working full time and progressing my career as an IT systems administrator.”

After working in IT for six years, Ben Gershom felt like his career was stagnating, and he wanted to move on to something new and different. So he applied and was accepted to the engineering bachelor’s program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

“Within the engineering program, I decided to study Mechanical Engineering, since it was as different from IT as I could think of and covered a breadth of the concepts I had previously enjoyed in school,” he said. “During my senior year, I worked with the Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory (HSFL) for my senior capstone design project, and after graduating, I was hired as a summer intern and eventually became a full-time employee. At HSFL, in addition to mechanical engineering-related tasks, I now also perform project management duties. I found that I enjoyed management and decided that I wanted to officially move into a management role rather than continue purely with engineering.”

See Ben Gershom’s Senior Capstone Design Project: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/smallsat/2017/all2017/211/

Ben Gershom said his shift to project management duties and responsibilities necessitated the need to learn more skills and gain experience in management.

“I felt an EMBA would be of much more use than getting a specialized graduate degree in engineering,” he said. “Plus, the business aspect of the EMBA program will assist with the management of funds, proposals, and business development for the lab, since we are a university lab funded through grants.”

Ben Gershom’s participation in the EMBA program was “without a doubt” dependent on financial assistance from scholarships and grants.

“I am extremely grateful and feel very fortunate to have received a generous scholarship from the Saltchuk Hawaiʻi Companies and James P.D. Thropp, as well as a graduate fellowship grant from the Hawaiʻi Space Grant Consortium.”

Ben Gershom is a founding member of a startup called Pulse Utility, which he began this year with a few coworkers.

“We competed in and won both the 2021 University of Hawaiʻi Innovation Impact Challenge and the 2021 Venture Competition,” he said. “My future career plans are to help HSFL expand to the outer islands and to lead a team and eventually a lab in Maui. My goal is to help develop an aerospace workforce and industry in Hawaiʻi, to help bring more high paying professional jobs to locals and boost Hawaiʻi’s economy and capabilities.”

Brialyn Onodera

Brialyn Onodera was born and raised in the town of Hilo, Hawaiʻi, on the Big Island. She works as a mechanical engineer for the National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, the most powerful solar telescope in the world.

“After enrolling in the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa’s Mechanical Engineering program, I looked for different internship opportunities that would allow me to pursue my space or ocean-related interests,” she said. “I applied to the Akamai Workforce Initiative to see what kind of STEM opportunities were available within Hawaiʻi. This led to two internships: one with Keck Observatory in 2015 and one with the Inouye Solar Telescope in 2016. Before these internships, I was aware of the observatories in Hawaiʻi but never thought I could work at one unless I already had several years of professional work experience. After my internships, I felt like a career with an observatory was more accessible, and after graduating with my degree, I was contacted and hired by an engineer at the Inouye Solar Telescope.”

Onodera applied to the EMBA program to expand her skills outside of the scope of engineering. She chose the distance program specifically because the schedule was synchronous with her work schedule.

“Earning my EMBA has motivated me to pursue subjects out of engineering that I would not have dedicated myself to otherwise,” she said. “Since I already have an undergraduate degree in engineering, I think the value that an EMBA brings is the ability to work with people from different backgrounds and different personalities to complete a project more efficiently. I have also expanded my network beyond astronomy and engineering and thus have met many interesting people.

“I am most proud of how I have managed to stay within Hawaiʻi as a student and professional, and in doing so, I was able to form connections with various mentors and peers within the community. When I envision my future, I think of myself with the Inouye Solar Telescope or another telescope in Hawaiʻi. The work I’ve done with the telescope is very engaging, and I love working for the observatories and contributing to the scientific community in that way. Hawaiʻi is my home, and I would not consider a career anywhere else unless absolutely necessary.”

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