Next Gen Leaders provide hope for our future

Shidler student Josh Rio
Shidler student Josh Rio participating in his capstone group project on systemic racism.

By Dani Douglass

Led by a team of Hawai‘i business leaders serving as mentors in the Next Gen Leaders Program, ten students, including three from Shidler College, spent this summer tackling some of Hawai‘i’s most complex topics – homelessness, environmental sustainability and systemic racism in an eight-week mentorship program hosted by the Jordan & Cara Odo Scholarship Foundation.

The program was born out of the success of last year’s Virtual Summer Internship Program, which was offered to students as a virtual internship alternative after many were canceled due to the pandemic. The Odo Scholarship Foundation was so impressed and inspired by the program’s success that it knew it wanted to offer another experience to students who graduated from Hawai‘i high schools.

“This year’s program essentially had two components, the first being a team project in which the students researched and proposed a solution to a complex issue and secondly, leadership and professional development through mentoring groups, feedback and talk stories,” Jordan Odo, EMBA ’17, president of the Odo Scholarship Foundation, said. Conducted entirely by Zoom, students, organizers and mentors alike were able to pivot with ease to create an impactful and unforgettable virtual experience.

Odo and his team worked with Ben Trevino, MBA ’13, former president of the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs (HIPA) and brainstormed ways for the Next Gen Leaders Program to intersect with the Hawaii 2.0 Initiative (HI2.0). Gov. David Ige introduced this “digital economy” initiative earlier year to allow state businesses and former governors to make recommendations for the 2022 legislative session. The connection to HIPA started during last summer’s internship program and a Shidler Alumni Association hosted event with Alan Oshima about diversifying Hawai‘i’s economy.

Next Gen Leaders

The Next Gen Leaders program participants on the kick-off call.

The students researched topics that aligned with the HI2.0 economic clusters and that personally concerned them. Their passions came through while they were brainstorming solutions.

“Many of the students had directly experienced the issues they were working on and therefore, the majority were self-motivated and determined to find solutions for them, some of which were new & innovative ideas,” John Doyle, EMBA ’17, who serves on the mentorship committee and directed the capstone portion of the summer internship program for the Odo Scholarship Foundation, said, “I was proud of how much our student teams banded together and organized themselves in the face of some of the toughest and complex community issues affecting our state.”

The student’s work culminated with presentations to a panel of community leaders on July 31, when they pitched their ideas on how to solve or mitigate the issues related to their topic. You can watch their presentations here. HIPA recently highlighted the program in the HI2.0 final report to state leaders. 

“As a participant in 2020's internship program, I was elated to have the opportunity to continue again in this past summer's Next Gen Leaders Program,” said student Jonah Tiwanak. “The program caught my eye because it stressed independent and collaborative leadership such as delegating team tasks, conducting interviews with local stakeholders and business leaders, surveying our personal networks and ultimately, brainstorming and drawing conclusions as a group.”

Priming professionalism 

Aside from working on their topic-specific projects, the students received professional development and guidance from community mentors. This dedicated group provided countless hours organizing the program and working closely with participants. The caring mentors were all recognized leaders in their respective companies and in the local business community, and Odo said that they were all busy juggling day-to-day life and commitments but still found the time to dedicate to students.

“A lot of work and care goes into designing and implementing our mentorship programs, but it always feels worthwhile when we watch how the students learn and grow from the program and have the realization that they really can make a difference in the community,” he said.

Jeff Berlin, owner of Jeff Berlin Consulting, created the curriculum and led the sessions. He also secured a generous donation from LearningBridge to conduct a feedback process called “Team Rater Process.” The students also read “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek.

Student participant Tiwanak enjoyed the mentorship component of the program the most. “In particular, I derived increased ambition and purpose from a session led by Berlin. The discussion centered around interpersonal skills, while providing an open conversation on self-development and encouraging our input.”

 “I am always blown away by how much senior leaders in our community care about growing the next generation of Hawai‘i’s leaders,” Doyle said. “Not only did we have a senior leader who provided every participant with a scholarship this year, we had another community leader decide to double it when the other leader said he was going to do so. I’ve gotten to know many of these students personally and the scholarships really helped them financially, especially with the added uncertainty that accompanies the current pandemic environment.”

“Planning this program has given me so much hope for the future,” Odo said. “Our business and community leaders have been so generous and supportive of our students. We’ve had many volunteers assist us by providing feedback, conducting mock interviews, reviewing scholarship essays and helping the students better understand the issues. The Queen’s Health Systems, Kaimana Hila and American Savings Bank also made donations that allowed us to award scholarships to every student who participated in the program.”

There are now two of these internship programs in the books and Odo says that there is interest in having another one next year. The team will have to decide on whether and how that proceeds but, in the meantime, the leadership team is still relishing in the growth they saw in the students in a short time and the coming together of the community to make this opportunity possible.

“If the students who participated in the program are any indication of the next generation of Hawai‘i’s leaders, we are in excellent hands,” Odo said. “They are resilient and innovative and if we can nurture their confidence and optimism, they can be a high force for change in Hawai‘i, even today.”