New Centers Distinctions program recognizes students pursuing their passions


Academy students deeply invested in the mission of Punahou’s educational centers are now being formally recognized through the School’s Distinctions program. Students who demonstrate competency in the respective areas are eligible to receive an official Distinction on their transcripts, recognizing their work with the center they dedicated themselves to, including the Case Accelerator for Student Entrepreneurship (CASE); Design Technology and Engineering; Kuaihelani Center for ‘Ike Hawai‘i; Luke Center for Public Service; Outdoor Education; and Wo International Center.

The centers have long been part of Punahou’s rich tapestry of educational offerings, providing a wealth of programs, opportunities and mentorship to students interested in such areas as global education, entrepreneurship, engaged citizenship and Hawaiian studies. Students from K – 12 gravitate to the centers to explore personal interests or deepen their work in respective areas. For instance, a student concerned about plastic pollution might organize a beach cleanup through the Luke Center, while a student looking to start a handmade jewelry business may seek advice through CASE.

By earning a Distinction, students will be able to show their commitment to a center on their college applications or to a potential employer, with the School’s official acknowledgement. “Students, in some cases, will have a portfolio that could demonstrate four years of work, and show, ‘this is how I stand out,’” said Taryn Loveman, director of Design Technology and Engineering. “We can then reach out to universities and tell them what students are capable of.”

Dani Goddard, director of Luke Center, said many students spend their free time doing work with the centers, and it’s not a pathway that’s always visible in a classroom or even mentioned in transcripts. “The Distinction is a great way for students to be recognized for their efforts and demonstrate who they are outside of the classroom,” she said

Unlike an award, the Distinction is non-competitive and open to any interested Academy student. Starting in their freshman or sophomore year, students devise a multi-year plan and pursue a variety of opportunities with guidance from the center director. Along the way, they create a portfolio that showcases their learning, then present them to a panel during their senior year. The centers will decide which students will receive Distinctions based on their work and overall commitment.

The Distinction program is part of a transformational approach to education at Punahou, which has a primary mission to foster students’ commitment to addressing real-world issues in the community.

The following Academy students have earned or are on track to earn a centers Distinction through CASE; Design Technology and Engineering; Luke Center for Public Service; and Wo International Center. Kuaihelani Center for ‘Ike Hawai‘i and Outdoor Education are still developing their Distinction programs. Kuaihelani Center will recognize students who demonstrate sustained dedication to Hawaiian language and culture, while Outdoor Education will recognize students who exemplify a commitment to outdoorsmanship, animal welfare, exploration and environmental sustainability.

Case Accelerator for Student Entrepreneurship (CASE)

Rustin Katsura ’22 and Chev Kodama ’22


The Distinction is given to students who demonstrate sustained dedication and achievement in launching a venture to effect positive change in the community.

For longtime friends and baseball teammates Rustin Katsura ’22 and Chev Kodama ’22, downtime in the dugout was a time for dreaming up business ideas. Now they’re moving forward with one of their ideas with the help of Case Accelerator for Student Entrepreneurship (CASE). Their vision, developed as juniors, is to create an app that uplifts people.

Called Quoter, the app will ask users how they are feeling, then offer inspiring quotes tailored towards improving their mood. “The app is about flipping people’s emotions to positive by giving them the right words at the right time,” Katsura said. The app also will have a social component, such as a social media feed, where users can submit their own quotes, share, like and comment.

The timing felt right to pursue their plan as the world continues to grapple with the pandemic. “Quotes allow people to connect with others without being physically present, and we can spread that connection through a platform and affect many people,” Katsura said. “We thought of the idea because we took a look at what we can offer the world, and one of those things is comforting people when they’re down. Through coding and this app, we can do that on a larger scale.”

The duo, who took AP computer science and CASE’s Coding for Entrepreneurs summer course, said CASE Director Mark Loughridge helped them think through the design and business model for their app. “Mr. Loughridge has been helping with a lot of the design process and the market research and introduced us to resources to help complete the work,” Kodama said. “Without CASE, I think that we would still be working on something, but we would be a lot further behind in our progress.”

In the short run, the pair hopes to uplift people with quotes when the app launches at the end of the school year. Yet they also believe their app can be beneficial on a larger scale. Since the app was inspired by Punahou’s Social, Emotional and Ethical Learning (SEEL) curriculum, the duo has partnered with the Support and Wellness (S+WELL) department and incorporated Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence mood meter, used at Punahou for students and others to get in touch with how they’re feeling.

Chev Kodama ’22 (right) and Rustin Katsura ’22 (left) are developing an app that uplifts people.

The data aggregated from people tracking their mood on the app can be useful for teachers, and also, as the duo hope, leaders of businesses and organizations looking to gain insight into the emotional well-being of employees. The app would be free, but companies could pay a subscription for the additional mood data. “This is useful and important right now, with so many companies investing in mental health. For example, Google is spending millions of dollars to develop better ways to improve the mental health of their employees,” Katsura explained.

Design Technology and Engineering

Kawai Kelekolio ’21


The Distinction is for students who demonstrate sustained dedication and achievement in engineering, computer science, industrial design, place-based design and community service.

Kawai Kelekolio ’21, Punahou’s first Distinction awardee in Design Technology and Engineering, got his start when he took up Lego robotics in the fourth grade. In the Academy, he progressed to competitive robotics, where he helped Punahou’s team design and build 120-pound robots to compete against other schools’ bots.

As a junior in the inaugural Engineering 4 class, he and his classmates kicked off an ambitious, multi-year project to design and construct an electric train and 250-foot track in the D. Kenneth Richardson ’48 Learning Lab. The ongoing engineering project is a functional, battery-powered and solar-charged replica of a steel locomotive that can be set up at events to show the power of alternative energy sources. He also had a hand in building rigging components for the School’s voyaging canoe, Kamaola.

Kelekolio, who is pursuing a mechanical engineering degree at University of Hawai‘i Manoa, says while part of Punahou’s robotics team, he developed skills that led faculty to tap him to work on the School’s electric train and voyaging canoe, Kamaola. “The skills and knowledge that I’ve been able to soak up from various faculty and mentors has been huge,” he said.

After graduating last year from Punahou, Kelekolio applied to several engineering workshops on the Island, attaching a link to his resume of the online portfolio he created as part of the Distinction program.

He received three offers of employment from employers who said that his portfolio was a big part of their decision. “You don’t usually hire a high school kid for this kind of work, but being able to prove that not only have I been doing this kind of work, but there’s a background of skill and experience they can lean back on to make their decision, they said was a really huge thing for them,” said Kelekolio, who ultimately accepted a teaching assistant position in Punahou’s Richardson Learning Lab.

Kawai Kelekolio ’21 said he developed valuable skills and knowledge while at Punahou.

Luke Center for Public Service

Emma McDonald ’22


The public service Distinction recognizes students who demonstrate sustained dedication in serving the local and global community. The center also awards a Distinction in Civic Education for students who demonstrate sustained commitment to building greater civic engagement in our communities.
Emma McDonald ’22 (center) spends her free time addressing food insecurity in Hawai‘i.

When Emma McDonald ’22 heard a presentation inviting Academy students to apply for the School’s new Distinction program, she knew she’d be a good fit for the public service Distinction with Luke Center.

Since the onset of the pandemic, with many of her extracurriculars scaled back or on hold, McDonald has been dedicating her free time to addressing food insecurity on the Island. When the pandemic hit, local farms lost their biggest source of income, the restaurant industry. With a family connection at Kahumana farms, McDonald, a sophomore at the time, dove right into helping the Wai‘anae farm expand their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to get fresh vegetables to people who could use them.

Expanding the CSA meant more deliveries to homes across the Island, and McDonald stepped in to organize and streamline the process, figuring out best routes for drivers, overseeing packing on Fridays, and even driving and delivering the Kailua route herself. “During COVID, when everyone was so isolated, I was walking up to people’s doorsteps with my mask and my gloves and a face shield on. But it was amazing to see how happy people would be to get fresh groceries and fresh vegetables that were coming from a local sustainable source,” said McDonald, who has since participated in other community food drives and served as the Academy coordinator for Punahou’s record-breaking K – 12 food drive this past November.

Working with Luke Center and earning a public service Distinction helped McDonald understand the bigger picture of her individual community service efforts and recognize her deep passions. “It helped synthesize all of the things that I’ve done,” she said.

Now, she’s involving other Academy students in her work and connecting them to her contacts in the community so the projects can be continued.

“As I’ve gotten involved with Luke Center, it’s really amazing to see how big their outreach is,” McDonald said. “I don’t know of any other high school across the country with a dedicated service center helping students find connections and making a difference within our community and using our resources. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of.”

Wo International Center

Haruna Floate ’22


The Distinction recognizes students who demonstrate outstanding global competency and engagement with a global perspective.

As part of her senior Capstone project, Haruna Floate ’22 and a small group of classmates found a way to connect with students abroad, despite pandemic travel restrictions.

With the support of Wo International Center Co-directors Paula Arias and Robyn Borofsky ’99 Vierra, they formed an online language exchange with high school students in Buenos Aires, offering to help the Argentine students with their conversational skills in English. Simultaneously, Floate bolstered her Spanish, which she’s been studying since seventh grade. “Being able to connect and learn more about their culture and lifestyle was a really unique opportunity that only Wo International Center could offer,” she said.

The Capstone class was not Floate’s first experience with the center. Her international interests have led her there since middle school. In eighth grade, she stayed with a host family in Tamagawa, Japan, which was coordinated by the center. Around the same time, Floate, who speaks Japanese fluently, started volunteering to share her native language skills through the center’s after-school language immersion program for students K – 8. She is now a teaching assistant in the program, where she works five hours a week helping young students learn Japanese and about the culture. She’s also helped Spanish teachers roll out a new language proficiency exam, agreeing to be the first student to be tested and to provide feedback.

While applying for a Distinction, Floate said she reflected on all the work she’s done with the center over the years, and how such experiences solidified her interest in working eventually in global medicine. “My dream is working internationally in different communities around the world,” she said. “Through this portfolio, I’ve been able to build this foundation for my future career goals and share a piece of my identity and what my interests are, which is a unique opportunity.”

Haruna Floate ’22 (top center) said the Wo International Center helped solidify her global interests.

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.