Holomua recruiting program wins over hearts of prospective students

Written by: 
Patrick Campbell & Antoniette Yee

Begins with spiritual and scholarly focus

More than 100 high school students attended BYU-Hawaii’s Holomua college prep program that helps them acquire the knowledge, skills, and information needed to succeed at the university. Holomua camp directors and mentors spent the first day introducing the camp members to each other and to Laie to set the tone for the week.

“This program is amazing because it shows them a path and gives them a goal to work towards,” said Camp Mentor Julia Maiava, a sophomore from Washington majoring in international cultural studies.

According to Arapata Meha, camp director and organizer, the goal of the work is a college education, hopefully at BYU-Hawaii.

The Holomua team used a variety of recruiting tools including a link on the school website, announcements sent out to local high schools and seminary teachers, and social media campaigns. Meha said four enrolled students were non-members living in Hawaii.

Mahina Halvorsen, a camp member from Kaneohe, said she wanted to attend after hearing her friends talk about their experiences. “My friends said they had felt something special throughout the week and I wanted to experience that.”

After students arrived and were checked into their dorms, the camp opening session kicked off in the Aloha Center. The camp members then walked to the Joseph F. Smith Library to take a Strong Inventory Assessment meant to give the students more direction as they explore potential career paths, according to Meha.

The camp members then hurried to the Old Gym to participate in team-building activities in their individual groups randomly assigned by the camp leadership.

“We wanted to mix up the groups so they could meet new people,” said Dylan-Sage Wilcox, a student outreach coordinator.

Meha said, “When you go to college, it’s all new, and so we wanted to simulate that in a way by creating random groups where the camp members are forced to meet new people.”

Ema Reardon, a camp member from Hawaii Kai, explained, “I’m glad we were assigned to groups because I probably would have just hung around the people I know. It forced me to meet new people.” Jarom Lopez, a camp member from Utah whose older brother attends BYUH, said it was beneficial because it moved them out of their comfort zones. 

Wilcox explained his main goal for the mentors was for them to help their students feel comfortable. For Maiava, a Holomua alumna, being a mentor brings a lot of responsibility. She said, “There will always be hiccups when you do a camp like this, but I feel as a mentor it’s my job to make sure the activities are as smooth and useful to the students as possible.”

She explained she found out about the ICS major while attending Holomua, which was helpful to know about.

After an ACT workshop where the camp members were introduced to the test, the camp members made the trek from campus to the Laie Temple Visitors’ Center for a devotional from guest speaker Seamus Fitzgerald, a BYUH alumnus and director of talent management at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Reardon said the best part of the first day was the devotional because it “set the tone for the week.” Fitzgerald spoke about his journey that led him to Laie to attend BYUH. His message, “Whatever your situation, this is a very important place,” resonated with the students.

Before the devotional, the entire camp, including students, mentors, and directors, gathered in front of the steps of the temple to take a camp photo. “We wanted to start off our week with this photo,” said Meha. He explained the trip was part of the camp’s mission to introduce the camp members to the temple and the school.

At the conclusion of the first day, the camp gathered together for a planned Family Home Evening.


Participants gather information during majors fair

Professors from different departments set up booths at the HGB on June 20 to introduce themselves and promote their department to the prospective students. 

The fair allowed the students to choose areas of studies and majors they find interesting and connect them with possible jobs, said Maurice Mo`o, BYUH admissions officer and one of the Holomua organizers. “This is an awesome experience because a lot of these students are wondering what they want to be and what they want to study.”

When asked about the highlight of the fair, Mo`o explained how it is very different from other fairs they go to. “The participants are juniors going on seniors and they’ve attended a lot of fairs, but those were college fairs. Those fairs have representatives from different colleges,” he said. “These kids are at BYUH and I think this is a more specific fair that allows them to decide which major they want.”

With the new curriculum starting this September, students can choose three areas of study, he said. “They may not know which one of those three they want to major in, but they can start it and decide what they want to do.

“They can take their first semester, select three areas of interest, and decide after that what they want to major in. It will be very helpful and it will help them save time and money,” he continued.

 Students should select a major they are passionate about, he said, as well as a career. “It will help them grow and progress, not just academically but also spiritually,” he added.

Kiran Vidinhar, a Holomua participant from Hawaii, said she was never interested in BYUH until after the fair. “It’s cool to have us all here and get us interested in the school,” she added.

Vidinhar expressed her love of Holomua. “It is a good opportunity and program because it gives me a chance to see how colleges work. I’m able to see and get more ideas of what I want to do.”

The fair is a good opportunity because it gives options to students for their academic futures, especially at BYUH, said Ileana Nii, a participant of Holomua from Oahu. She continued, “Everything that I’m kind of interested in is here and I’m happy about that.”

Nii said the fair is a great reminder to get the information first before going into the major. “I feel like there’s a good variety of majors here. The flyers that they gave us will really help us in the major we are interested in,” she said.

She said,  “I like Holomua. We get to stay in the dorms and we experience college life for the first time. It’s a good experience after all.”

Holomua helps a lot of students who are considered to be on the edge about their decisions to attend BYUH and it is an introduction to the school, she added.

Haley Ellen, a participant of Holomua from Georgia, said she was kind of lost before and did not know the steps she needed to take to be a part of the field she wants.

“This fair really helped me look into a school that I can go to and it’s great to help me decide what I want to go into. I know exactly what I want to pursue now.”

Ellen continued, “I like how it gives me a deep, solid feel of what this campus is and I was able to [figure out] the exact steps to take for my interest.”


Ends with test, beach, and devotional

High school junior students said they made lasting friendships and memories. “The best part of the week has been getting to know new people. The mentors are amazing,” said Trianna Talbot from California. She said she plans to attend BYUH during the Fall 2018 Semester primarily because of her Holomua experience.

The last day of the program was busy as students took the ACT exam in the morning and then had activities at Hukilau Beach Park, which was the first time they were able to go to the beach during the week-long event.

Meha explained, “The schedule was varied and kept the students engaged. We intentionally did not build in much free time.”

While several of the Holomua mentors said the students were a little disgruntled by the beach restrictions, they felt the program helped to show students what real college life is like. “One hidden thing students learn is that there is a time to study and there is a time to play,” said Honu Lindsey, lead mentor and BYUH graduate.

The students took the ACT college entrance exam in two large groups. One was placed in the HGB while the other was in the BYUH Testing Center. The air conditioning in the Testing Center wasn’t working and wasn’t fixed during the three-hour exam.

The students participated in ACT workshops taught by BYUH students throughout the week to prepare for it.

“[Teaching] was a good learning experience,” said Rebecca Foster, a Spring 2017 graduate from California. “We practiced tests and discussions, and we taught them reading discussions.”

The first classes were difficult as students felt the toll of the busy schedule, said Foster. “It looked like the students were about to fall asleep. We were just lecturing, and other teachers and I realized this wasn’t working as well as we wanted.” She said the prep instructors decided to change course by creating different teams and groups and using small classroom competitions to prepare for the test.

“We taught what we thought was important, but also in a way that the students would appreciate,” Foster added.

After the test, the students walked to Hukilau Beach through the Temple Beach entrance. The Holomua support staff had a barbecue ready for the students once they arrived and set up a volleyball net.

Haley Durden, a high school junior from Georgia, said Holomua had been a great experience for her. She said, “I really wanted to go to Provo’s SOAR program, but then I went and toured the campus, and BYU-Idaho’s campus, and felt like they weren’t the best fit.”

After talking with her mother about her feelings, Durden came across Holomua. She said, “I didn’t even know about the ACT prep. The thing that attracted me to the program was the opportunity to get a feel for college and the experience it would give me. I wanted to see it for myself.”

The program concluded the following Saturday morning. A short devotional was held before parents came to pick up their students. Each mentor was asked to select a student from their group to come up and share their feelings about their experience during the week. Almost every student said they were either going to apply to BYUH or hadn’t wanted to attend before and were now seriously considering it. Wilcox said, “I could see how tired my team was after each day. I knew that we worked hard so that the kids could have an awesome experience, but I feel that we did even more than that.  We helped a lot of our kids to decide on coming to BYU-Hawaii after high school.”

Wilcox said his vision for the students who attended this year was like a kalo stalk, which is planted in the lo`i, and “then the next generation takes their place.”             He added, “Holomua has the potential to do a lot of good in building up the university.”

Wilcox said he has “full confidence the students this year will have an influence on the direction and reach of this program in the future, whether they become mentors or coordinators of the program.”


‘Sails forward’

“In the five years I’ve been directly involved in coordinating Holomua, I have particularly enjoyed preparing for this group to visit campus,” said Meha.  “I’m especially excited because this is our primary campus recruiting program. Holomua has a bright future.”

Wilcox said, “For me, Holomua, as a program, is the literal and metaphorical meaning of the Hawaiian word meaning ‘to sail forward’ or ‘to progress.’” He emphasized, “It’s not a boot camp. It’s not a vacation. It’s, at least for me and evidently for many of [the students], a life-changing experience.

“[Holomua] is a college prep program designed to help high school students acquire the knowledge, skills, and information needed to succeed at BYU-Hawaii. The feedback from the Holomua participants, as well as their parents, has been overwhelmingly positive.”

He told of a mother whose daughter had been wondering what to do for school and “found her path” at Holomua. Another attendee told a story of being unable to describe her emotions fully to her parents about how amazing the week was.

Reflecting on the week, Wilcox felt the temple attendance was one of the biggest differences from previous Holomuas. Both Wilcox and Lindsey were members of the original Holomua in 2011.

Lindsey said, “One change has been the bigger spiritual aspect. These kids have gone to the temple, and…we prayed a lot. We prayed before the beginning of each new activity block.

“When I was here, we just prayed in class, like what we do in school here. It ended up being a really good thing.” 

Wilcox said during the first Holomua, participants weren’t able to visit the temple. This time, the students performed approximately 400 baptisms and confirmations at the temple, according to Meha. “President Kealoha was very appreciative of this effort and contribution in the temple. Several students commented their visit to the temple was the highlight of their experience.”

Lindsey believed the spiritual change improved the attitudes of the students. “At the beginning, there were some kids where you looked into their eyes and you could see the teenage defiance, but as the week went on, everyone pulled together like a family,” she said. “I think a lot of that is because of the increased spiritual focus.”

While Holomua is often compared to BYU’s SOAR (Summer Of Academic Refinement), Wilcox said he felt the comparison isn’t quite the same.

“Holomua is a program meant to include all youth from all around the world,” he said. If the program receives more funding, he said he believes it will have students from the South Pacific and Asia in the near future.

“My goal is for Holomua to be not just BYUH’s major source of recruiting students to come to this university, but it should be greatly sought after as a crucial post-high school educational experience for Latter-day Saint youth in Hawaii and elsewhere,” Wilcox explained.

Lindsey reminisced, “When my parents signed me up for Holomua in 2011, I didn’t want to go. It was going to be their first one. Holomua made me want to go to BYUH.”

Lindsey explained how she had to get special permission to participate since she had just graduated. She also gave up her regular summer job back home on the Big Island where she instructs visiting groups on Hawaiian culture. “I wanted to give back. For me, it feels like I’ve gone full circle,” she said.

Wilcox said Food Services, IT, and Housing Departments helped  make Holomua 2017 possible by providing food, housing and logistics for all of the attendees.

Date Published: 
Saturday, September 2, 2017
Last Edited: 
Saturday, September 2, 2017

NOTE: This article's publication was delayed because it was featured in the Sept. 2017 print issue.