We are BYU-Hawaii: Leaders share the transformative experience students have on campus and at PCC

Written by: 
Ally Pack

For the vast variety of employers from all over the world, Student Alumni and Career Services planned a presentation to showcase BYU-Hawaii students at the Asian Pacific Career Conference. President and CEO of the Polynesian Cultural Center Alfred Grace, Vice President of Student Development Debbie Hippolite Wright, Vice President of Administration Steve Tueller, Vice President of Academics John Bell, and BYUH’s President John S. Tanner each contributed their thoughts about the importance of students at BYU-Hawaii.


Grace started off the info session by describing the benefits students offer to the PCC. He presented, “The Polynesian Cultural Center was created to sustain students who attended BYUH. BYUH is here, so the PCC is right next door. [As] an ambassador for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are asked to demonstrate and radiate a spirit of love and service by loving, welcoming, and directing all our guests with excellence.”


Grace added to prove his statement by saying, “The PCC is the No. 1 paid attraction in Hawaii because the vast majority of employees here are BYU-Hawaii students.  Ninety percent of the interaction that our customers will have with a PCC employee is with a student employee. I don’t know of any company who would turn their life and well being over to students, but that is what we do here and as a company. We are supposed to sustain and be self-reliant, and we are relying on our students to make sure that we can be successful and survive.”


Many of the creative elements and development ideas at the PCC, Grace said, actually come from student insight and recommendations. “The secret ingredient in our recipe has always been our student employees from BYU-Hawaii. They are held to high expectations here,” Grace stated.


Marilyn Harmer, a service missionary for the LDS Church, said she attended the Asia Pacific Career Conference with her husband Chet Harmer and told their story of attending a luau at the PCC with a young man who was singing as he prepared their meal.  “He wasn’t just singing to himself,” she said enthusiastically. “We all got to listen to him. He was joyful. He was happy to be there. I think this is the PCC’s spirit.”


Grace commented, “Much of what you see in the marketplace and the cultural center is actually being operated and managed by students at BYU-Hawaii. A lot of our students are working really high-pressure situations. We serve generally over 200 meals a day at the PCC and they’re served within a two-hour period. Not many restaurants try to serve that many meals and strive for significant ratings.”


In addition, Grace talked of the awards the PCC has earned over the years, and the significance of those awards in conjunction with the difficult skill level, marketing system, and time and money needed to earn and maintain most of them.


However, he said the PCC’s goals in achieving high-customer satisfaction and financial goals have not taken away from the employees, particularly student employees, opportunities and aspirations. He said, “Our jobs have been designed in a way that’s been appropriate for student jobs to have experiential outcomes and development while doing all of those and being able to maintain full productivity in business. They are working within the confines of a system that allows them to grow and develop in work and school.”


Hippolite Wright, as an alumna herself, maintained Grace’s perspective and told her story. “I came here to Brigham Young University when I was a very young teenager and worked at the Cultural Center for the entire time,” she stated.


“I remember that period of my life being one where I found who I was an as individual person. Coming here to BYU-Hawaii and the Polynesian Cultural Center allowed me to stand on my own, with the support of my family, to grow and to learn both professionally and personally. I’m proud to be an alumna of BYU-Hawaii and I am so passionate about the vision of our school to develop lifelong learners, leaders, and builders.”


Hippolite Wright then started into her presentation to promote the Honor Code BYUH adheres to. “The code encourages us, invites us, to live the virtues encompassed in the gospel of  the church of Jesus Christ. It is the over-arching framework to help women and men become people of honor and integrity, and to adhere to ethical standards in all aspects of their lives.


“BYU-Hawaii focuses on developing specific skills,” she highlighted, “and these are our institutional learning outcomes.  We’re purposeful about teaching these skills and we also emphasize character development.


“Our students have the opportunity to serve, and we have a vibrant Seasider sports program run by students. They plan, implement, and evaluate the program that happens throughout the semester. We also have a number of plays and performances to expand students’ perspectives around the arts.”


She also voiced the excitement surrounding the annual event of Culture Night, and its purpose in getting those previously mentioned associations and groups to join together with cultural pride. “Students plan what they are going to perform, they teach the dances and the songs, they arrange the music, and they organize the schedules for practice. We do encourage each group to have members from different cultures and countries as well. It’s the learning and the sharing that goes on.”


Hippolite Wright concluded, “With over 70 different countries represented on our campus, we embrace cultural diversity. We celebrate it. In this day and age, employees must know how to work with people who are different from themselves. We teach these kinds of skills in subtle ways. We encourage students to join student associations, and we provide opportunities to broaden their talents to become a well-rounded person.”


Tueller focused his presentation on BYUH’s purpose in educating what he called “the whole person.” He commented on the difficulty of focusing on an eternal perspective when temporal needs are not being fulfilled.


“We take a similar approach [as the church],” Tueller offered. “We’re educating the whole person. We’re concerned with not only what students are learning in the classroom, but what they experience here working at the PCC, working on campus, and interacting with one another.”


He presented applicable statistics about the service center that connects students to the community. “It instills an individual’s desire to give proactive service.”


In 2017, Tueller said 2,000 students participated in service which equated to more than 4,000 service hours. He said the service opportunities students are offered build character on BYUH’s campus. He stated, “This is to give you a sense of the raw material that we are given to work with when we hire student employees on campus. Our student workforce comes with character. There is a minimum standard of excellence, character, and honesty that we require here.”


With over 60 percent of our students as returned missionaries, Tueller said the most important factor of hosting returned missionaries was the requirement of them to step outside of themselves, and as he said, “start thinking about the welfare of other people.” He tied that statement back to what he said regarding BYUH’s mission which is to educate the whole person.


“We have some really bright, capable wonderful skilled students. We’re interested in educating the whole person, and we see that as our mission, and to help support academics to give them a great work experience. We’re delighted when students make those kinds of things happen.”


Bell agreed with Tueller’s presentation. He stated, “We collaborate with church entities--our self-reliance managers here--to help students develop their own self-reliance. We think about this as a journey. Their holokai, or ocean voyage, began before they came. It’s a journey that we contribute to while they’re here. But it doesn’t end here. It’s a journey that continues on throughout their life, and in our faith, on to the eternity.”


Bell said multiple schools might boast they are unique in changing their students. However, he said at BYUH, “We expect that the education here is more than a few facts that we hope they would remember. We expect them to be transformed.  We help students develop in a strong spiritual sense: a sense of contributing, of moving outside of themselves. We help students to go beyond their own pursuits to contribute to their families, communities, employers, customers, and countries.


“It’s not just that we want them to learn about these things. We want them to engage and think in these areas and disciplines. Then they continue in the cycle of engagement, preparation and improvement so that they can become effective learners and employees.


“That is what we value here. The journey doesn’t end with us. They are expecting to be doing this for eternity. They’re expecting to become something for eternity. That is what their faith is. That journey must continue.”


Bell’s presentation inspired Marilyn Harmer to tell the story of another experience she had with a BYUH student.


She said enthusiastically, “I remember a couple years ago we were walking along your campus and we saw a very tall girl. She must have been at least 6’2” or maybe 6’4”. I do not know which country she was from, but she ... had the most magnificent attire on.” Harmer described this student’s hat and outfit and that she was singing and enjoying herself.


Harmer then said she asked to photograph this girl because she often used photos as an excuse to meet people. She said the girl agreed and “struck a wonderful pose.” Harmer described her as “the largest woman I’ve ever seen in my whole life. She was decorated like the most wonderful peacock that I could ever imagine.”


As Harmer continued the story, she said her husband asked the girl, “Where are you from?’ And she said, ‘Heaven! And you must be from there too I hope!’” Harmer concluded with, “This is something I’ve remembered always from BYU-Hawaii.”


Tanner began his closing thoughts powerfully by stating, “We believe that we are all part of that one ohana, that one family. We have diversity, but we also believe in unity that binds us together. Brothers and sisters, we come from heaven,” as Harmer stated.


According to President David O. McKay, President Tanner reminded his audience, the ground BYUH stands on would be the future of the church. Tanner said, “He said it would be an international, worldwide church. In fact, God loves all of his children equally. This college is a great gathering place for learning. That founding vision is celebrating his [prophecy]. Don’t forget that this is supposed to be a center of learning in Hawaii for the church.”


Tanner added, “When you come into the university, if you haven’t walked around the campus yet, you’ll see that mural and then you’ll see all these flags and they represent your nations and many others. The flags are there to remind you that we like to interact with diversity.”


Resolutely, Tanner then stated, “I like the fact that it’s in a circle because that reminds me of the unifying sense that we’re all nations of importance and we’re all brothers and sisters united, coming together as one.”

Date Published: 
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Last Edited: 
Tuesday, April 17, 2018