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Voices From the Region: A Conversation with Dr. Mary Hattori

REL Pacific
Laura Ostrow
September 13, 2019

Mary Hattori

Mary Therese Perez Hattori is a community organizer, author, poet, public speaker, and philanthropist, and is a native from Chamoru of Guåhan (Guam). She is a scholarship program specialist with the East-West Center's Education Program and serves as adjunct faculty for the University of Hawai'i. Previously, Mary served as the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Chaminade University and outreach director for the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai'i Mānoa. Mary's work focuses on culturally responsive education and leadership, leadership development, education technology, and indigenous research methodologies. Mary holds a B.Ed. with a concentration in Pacific Islands History, an M.Ed. in Educational Technology, and an Ed.D. in Professional Educational Practice from the University of Hawai'i—Mānoa. Read more about her at https://maryhattori. wordpress.com/. Ⓒ Photo by filmmaker Nathan Fitch

“We don't come from our islands with baskets empty, but we come with baskets full of life-affirming values that enrich the societies we find ourselves in now. Positive practices that people from the islands bring could actually improve education in the places they are moving to.” —Dr. Mary Hattori, scholarship program Specialist, East-West Center

REL Pacific staff recently had the chance to catch up with Dr. Mary Hattori, a scholarship program specialist based in O'ahu, Hawai'i. Read on to learn more about Mary's important work and thoughts on education in the Pacific region!

REL Pacific: Could you describe your current role at the East-West Center and the work you do in the field?

Mary: I just started my work with the East-West Center in August, where one of my primary roles is to manage and coordinate scholarship programs, including a South Pacific scholarship program from the U.S. State Department and an Asian Development Bank scholarship from Japan. These scholarships provide opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students who are coming from foreign countries to study in Hawai'i. Part of my role is to help these students get into the U.S., get adjusted, and succeed in their scholarship programs.

What is exciting about working at the East-West Center is that rather than focusing only on Pacific or Micronesian students, this job allows me to help scholars from all over Asia. Over 40 countries are represented in our very diverse student population at the center. I am also very excited that through mentoring doctoral students, I am able to work with indigenous students who are conducting research on indigenous issues in the region. I am also on a few dissertation committees with the College of Education at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa (UH) and at San Francisco State University in their College of Education. This type of research focuses more formally on problems in practices in education.

I also offer a more informal and supportive role for the students at the East-West Center, and help with research topics they have expressed interest in. Students from the Pacific are particularly interested in looking at research that will help their countries, as many are on scholarships from their governments or educational institutions. Their research focuses on the strengths in their communities as well as problems of practice in education.

The East-West Center offers a rich student experience, in addition to housing, weekly talks and seminars, mentoring, a computer lab, researchers, artists, and networking opportunities.

REL Pacific: What drew you to this type of work?

Mary: Many years ago, through my work in a community college setting, it became evident that there was a need to help the public sector and educators better understand Pacific Islanders who move from their home countries to the United States. My work in this area began as volunteer work at the community college, and grew as I became the outreach director of the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, where I was able to conduct more workshops for Department of Education (DOE) teachers and collaborate with the Honolulu Museum of Art to provide a variety of professional development opportunities on several islands.

REL Pacific: Could you tell us about some recent activities you have been involved with in the field?

Mary: At the East-West Center, we recently had a two-week community building institute where we oriented 87 new students to the University of Hawai'i and the East-West Center. Another activity that I have been involved in recently is as a partner on the collaborative “PDE3” workshop that the Honolulu Museum of Art is implementing in partnership with the DOE. This is a three-day workshop called “Carrying Culture: Micronesia,” in which we bring in folks from Micronesian communities in Hawai'i to speak, such as weavers or cultural experts, successful professionals or educators, parents, or students who went through the education system in their home countries and in the U.S. and are now successful college students. This creates a wonderful professional development opportunity where Micronesians are able to tell teachers in the DOE about ourselves, and don't have outsiders speaking for, or talking about us.

This is an empowering workshop, which connects communities with the schools. We have had very positive and welcoming responses. Some of our participating teachers have taken what they have learned in the workshop and have created changes within their own classrooms and schools to include more Micronesian culture-based activities as well as implementing more culturally responsive and informed teaching. A lot of our participants are pushing for school-wide changes and are embracing Micronesian students at an institutional level, acting as high-level change agents.

REL Pacific: What are some of the current needs and priority areas that you see through your work, in Hawai'i and in the Pacific region?

Mary: With so many people moving from the Pacific region into Hawai'i and other states, we can sometimes face issues of discrimination. There is a real need to highlight the strengths that these people bring when they move here, and the question becomes, how do we create opportunities for these students, to highlight these strengths?

Some of the problems we are trying to address at the East-West Center and University of Hawai'i are very similar to the goals of the REL. We are trying to identify what the barriers of academic achievement are for our students, which can oftentimes include methods of instruction or policies and practices in education that are coming from the West and are not necessarily culturally responsive or culturally sustaining. In addition, a lot of research on education in the region is deficit-oriented. Students are working to change that through stating research questions as questions instead of as problems. In their research, our students are working to highlight strengths and positive practices in education in the region, and to give voice to the wisdom and strengths of their communities.

REL Pacific: What are some other entities doing this work in the region?

Mary: There are some great organizations doing this type of work in the region. I want to shout out one organization, Micronesians United—Big Island (MUBI), who have grown into a 501(c)3 organization and do important work to help educators on the Big island better understand and serve Micronesian students. They are often speaking at the same events we attend and are doing great work to advance educational achievement on the Big Island, and are trying to build connections across all levels of education so that young Micronesian students might be able to see successful college students who are also Micronesian, as well as successful Micronesian professionals working in the communities.

The Department of Education has also been very welcoming, and have invited us into many schools to speak, deliver professional development opportunities, and bring awareness to educators of the importance of supporting Micronesian students and students coming from the region to the United States.

The Center for Pacific Island Studies at the University of Hawai'i is another organization doing great work to increase awareness of issues that are important to Pacific Islanders, run workshops, co-present with myself and others at workshops and conferences, and conduct outreach both in the United States and within the region.

We are so thankful for Mary for giving her time to let us know a bit more about her work!