On March 2–6, 2020, TFS Results founder Mark C. Perna delivered a series of inspiring presentations across the four major Hawai’ian Islands, Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Maui, and Hawai‘i Island. Almost a year in the planning, “Hawai’i Week” would be his last in-person trip before COVID-19 struck the U.S.

How did Mark’s message prepare the educators of Hawai’i for a time of unprecedented change? Our team recently connected with Ron Umehira, Dean of Career & Technical Education at Leeward Community College on Hawai’i Island, to discuss the lasting impact of this event.

“Over 1,500 CTE secondary and postsecondary professionals heard and experienced Mark’s passion for career-focused education during Hawai‘i Week,” Ron says. “At seven workshop presentations in five days on four islands, Mark was able to engage all of us in shifting the paradigm, from middle schools to high schools to community colleges to universities to the workforce.”

“It was truly an amazing and valuable week of engagement, learning, and collaboration.”

The backstory

A decade ago, Ron attended Mark’s preconference workshop at the 2011 Annual Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE) Convention in St. Louis. “Mark was such a dynamic and enthusiastic presenter as he shared how to engage and support students by first understanding who they are,” recalls Ron. “He gave us a tremendous amount of resources so that we could implement these strategies when we returned to our campus.”

“I have heard many speakers over the years and I told myself right after that workshop that if I ever had the opportunity to bring Mark to Hawai‘i to share his expertise and passion about CTE, I would definitely do so.”

In 2015, Ron and several of his secondary and post-secondary colleagues started to revitalize the Hawai‘i ACTE Chapter, holding its first conference in November 2017 with 350 attendees. For the second conference in January 2019, they invited Mark to deliver the keynote. “This event drew over 600 CTE professionals and Mark played a big part in our large attendance,” says Ron. “So many wanted to hear his message about transforming education, how to inspire students to get career ready, and how to retain students through completion.”

“Needless to say, Mark was a big hit with our attendees and we received hundreds of comments to bring Mark back again for a deeper dive into a number of educational and workforce issues.”

Thus, Hawai’i Week was born.

A week-long event of this magnitude required a vast amount of planning and coordination. Stakeholders included the Hawai‘i Department of Education (HDOE), the University of Hawai‘i Community Colleges (UHCC), and the Hawai‘i Student Success Institute (HSSI).

“The goal was for Mark to share his expertise and knowledge with hundreds of teachers, counselors, administrators, support staff, and workforce development executives,” says Ron.

The message

What was Mark’s message for a group of educators and industry leaders unwittingly poised on the edge of a world-shaking pandemic? “Mark spoke about shifting the paradigm on how we think about career readiness, bridging the gap between education and career, how to create a stronger partnership between HDOE, UHCC, the workforce, and the expansion of career guidance and academic counseling,” recalls Ron.

“He opened our eyes and minds to visualize the next 5–10 years in secondary and postsecondary education, how to rethink CTE in Hawai‘i, and how to strengthen the CTE teacher and faculty pipeline to develop and deliver the CTE pathways,” says Ron.

“This was especially valuable for the new and emerging fields of Information Technology, Skilled Trades, and Healthcare.”

The impact

Over 1,500 faculty, staff, administrators, and workforce representatives took part in Hawai’i Week. “Mark was able to help us ‘connect the dots’ between the secondary institutions to post-secondary institutions to the industry,” says Ron. “This message was heard by representatives from over forty high schools, five community colleges, and dozens of workforce representatives.” The culminating event was at the HSSI Conference, where over 1,000 UHCC faculty, staff, and administrators attended. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Hawai’i Week was also a groundbreaking networking and partnering experience for the state’s educators and business leaders. “Mark was able to engage our teams of secondary and postsecondary educators and administrators, complex and state office leadership, and business and community partners to work together to build and collaborate on career and college pathways,” says Ron. “Mark’s message was even more meaningful and valuable because we were able to create an intimate environment on each respective island as the participants had a closer engagement with Mark. They were able to network with their colleagues from the various institutions and with the workforce representatives.”

Mark’s empowering message during Hawai’i Week also provided the impetus for the expansion of six CTE pathways. “The movement to implement this expansion has been discussed for a number of years, but Mark’s visit during Hawai‘i Week reinforced this objective and provided the momentum needed to move forward,” says Ron. “To develop and offer the appropriate programs and curriculum in the secondary schools under each pathway will take a number of years, but the timeline and plans began in summer 2020.”

The next step

Shortly after Mark wrapped up Hawai’i Week and returned to the continental U.S., the pandemic struck—turning education upside down and deeply impacting the state’s tourism industry. But Mark’s message had resonated deeply.   

“CTE in Hawai‘i will be more important than ever as we need to get more people prepared and trained for the occupations that will be newly created,” says Ron. “We need to be prepared for these high-tech, high-demand, and high-wage jobs.

“There needs to be more collaboration between the secondary and post-secondary institutions, partnerships with industry, curriculum development, and course offerings in smart grid, logistics, data analytics, manufacturing, and facilities maintenance,” Ron says. “Improved vertical alignment, communication, and networking with the middle schools, high schools, universities, and with industry will be of the utmost importance. Additionally, custom industry training, expanding partnership funding, and agency relationships will be vital as the State of Hawai’i, the nation, and the world recover and improve its economy after this COVID-19 pandemic.”

As Hawai’i builds a stronger future, Mark is on tap as a powerful resource.

“We are looking forward to bringing Mark back again to share perspectives to a new audience of parents, government, and community leaders,” says Ron. “Hawai‘i needs to keep up with the strategies that are changing the education and workforce paradigm nationwide.

“Hawai’i Week brought our state together like never before to create greater synergy between academic knowledge and technical skills and how we can help students achieve this.”