Building trans-Pacific bonds and seeking solutions to the global water shortage were on the agenda at Punahou School’s Student Global Leadership Institute, which ended Friday.
The two-week program invited 28 students from eight private schools — four in China and four in the U.S. — for an intensive course on water conservation and leadership. The rising high school seniors, including six from Punahou, spent two weeks living in the University of Hawaii dorms, participating in field trips and seminars, and collaborating on water conservation projects.
"It seemed like a perfect opportunity to help me develop my skills with people with different frames of reference," said Chad Kamisugi of Punahou. "It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around every day."
Organizers said the program not only encouraged students to think critically about pressing social issues, but also allowed them to collaborate with students from different backgrounds.
"We didn’t want to create a hard and fast curriculum," said course instructor and Punahou social studies teacher Chai Reddy. "Water is what the content is built upon, but really we’re trying to develop leadership."
During the two-week session, students heard from a Harvard University professor, prominent water researchers and local government officials about water conservation efforts in Hawaii and around the globe. Students were asked to create comprehensive water conservation plans to be implemented on their home campuses during the coming year.
Students will track their colleagues’ progress through a social networking website set up by Punahou. The Web portal is an academic alternative to Facebook — which has been banned by Chinese censors — that will allow students to blog their successes, offer suggestions and stay in touch.
"We want to emphasize that this is step one," Reddy said. "The long-term goal is we want students to remain connected."
Although students have logged many hours on their projects, Reddy said the group has also been having a lot of fun with team-building exercises, like the Marshmallow Challenge, which charged groups of four students — from different schools and countries — to build the highest free-standing structure possible out of uncooked spaghetti, string and tape that could support the weight of a marshmallow placed on top.
Reddy said students have also greatly benefited from their interactions in the dormitory, where American and Chinese students roomed together.
"Getting to know each other in a really informal setting has been a great part of it," said Rachel Brown, a student at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. "It’s been a lot of fun."
"I’ve quite enjoyed it," said Yingqi Tang, a student at the High School Affiliated to Fudan University in Shanghai. "By conducting these personal levels of communication, we further our understanding of the culture."
The first program was organized by the Wo International Center, which facilitates cooperation between Punahou and partner schools around the world. Center Director Hope Kuo Staab said the pilot program provides a new global dimension to the Punahou curriculum.
"The world is different now," Staab said. "The students are really thinking globally, but their projects are acting locally."
With the success of this year’s program, Staab said Punahou is working with partner schools in the United States and abroad to expand the leadership institute to other campuses across the globe. Punahou has begun building connections with schools in the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
Staab said planning for next year’s program has begun, with a new academic focus and a new mix of students.
The graduates of this year’s program say even though their two weeks are up, they will continue to keep in touch with their new friends as they all enter their senior years.
"It’s a common bond that we all share," Kamisugi said. "We’re all still 17-year-olds trying to find a purpose."