Nalukai Academy: Harvesting Hawai’i’s Next Generation of Leaders

Nalukai Academy

Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike.

In the Native Hawaiian language, this means, “by doing, one learns” and is the stepping stone that empowers students (or “founders” as they are titled) at the Nalukai Academy Program on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi.

For Aaron Schorn, Nalukai’s Program Director, camp is the best two weeks out of the year. It is where a cohort of roughly 30 high school students from all the Hawaiian islands come together to build new skills of team development, entrepreneurship, leadership, intensive technology, and design in a culturally focused space. And it’s free.

“We are a social and cultural entrepreneurship organization,” said Schorn. “This is real, this is authentic and there is a purpose behind it. Every skill you learn, mentor you meet, skill you have — the reason is rooted in you. We build these capacities and mindsets and turn them into iterative realities.”

And that just scratches the surface of the Nalukai Startup Academy, a program that is not just another tech or entrepreneur program for students, explained Schorn.  It’s a place where the diverse youth of Hawaiʻi create their own waves of innovation through 21st-century skill-building but more significantly, space to mold intrinsic characteristics as a team and as an individual while rooted in Hawaiian culture.

An ever-increasing percentage of the cohort is of Hawaiian descent, shared Schorn. “You have to get the students to realize the power of their culture and their backgrounds. The program is rooted in group cohort culture and facilitating belonging.”

From the moment founders step into camp, a sense of community and culture is embraced. Students socialize in groups, create product teams, meet with staff, and collaborate with Hawaiʻi and global industry leaders and cultural practitioners who will assist their projects from ideation to execution. Nalukai’s program curriculum includes 5 areas of interest:

  • Digital storytelling – branding & marketing, content creation, web design
  • Leadership – project management, collaboration, team dynamics
  • Entrepreneurship – networking, investor pitches, business plan development
  • Design thinking –  prototyping, mind-mapping, iteration
  • Technology – coding, web development, digital business tools

By the end of the intensive two-week camp, each team will be ready to showcase their startup work through a formal ho’ike (showcase, presentation, celebration).

How does Nalukai ensure innovative project success for their learners? They bring the community in. How do they challenge the reach and scope of what learning communities are? Schorn summarizes it best,

“When school is rooted in the relationship between student and mentor, that’s when it is successful. We don’t have our alumni as interns, we have them be key leaders and stakeholders in the organization. We need to actualize the ideas and strategies of the youth.” He continued “Nalukai is all about working on teams. From the coder, the writer, to the cultural practitioner. We are redefining the relationship between the adult and the learner; the mentor and the mentee.”

Whether the goal is to move off of the islands or stay in Hawaiʻi, Nalukai Academy is the connecting force that will allow Hawaiʻi’s next generation of leaders to have an impact and create better futures for their community.

“How do you teach someone to get their ideas out into the world?” Schorn emphasized. For Nalukai, one thing is certain; this academy strives to answer this question each year when the program sees its new set of Hawaiʻi future leaders through its camp doors.

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Ashley Ranan

Ashley was the former Digital Content Manager at Getting Smart. She also has worked for Federal Way Public Schools as a Multimedia Specialist, helping to tell the stories of educators, students and a school community through social media, blogs and content.

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