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Alyssa Kapaona: Enjoy the journey

Alyssa Kapaona received her BS in family resources and her MEd in educational administration from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. With over 10 years of experience in the field of education she recently released Emma’s Adventure: Mommy’s Work Trip—a heartwarming children’s book about a young girl named Emma whose mother has to travel to a conference for work. Through the experience, Emma learns about her mother’s job and discovers how to deal with the separation.

We asked Alyssa a few questions about her passion for education and the inspiration behind Emma’s Adventure.

How did you discover your interest in teaching and education?

Education is in my blood! I come from a family of teachers (most of my family are alumni from UH Mānoa's College of Education). Because of this influence, all of my work experiences as a young adult was related to education (skills trainer, part-time teacher, after school aide, etc.). Despite my family’s background and my work in the field, I resisted committing to a career in education for many years, because I felt everyone I knew did it. It was while I was doing my UH Mānoa senior internship at Kapi‘olani Community College, that I truly fell in love with higher education and have been working in the field of education ever since.

Describe your career path. How did you come to do what you’re doing today?

After graduating with my BS in FAMR (UHM c/o 2006), I went into the Educational Administration masters program at COE in the higher education track (UHM c/o 2008). I was interested in learning more about college student development, how higher education institutions worked, and eventually wanted to work in the academy in some capacity. My research interests include exploring how institutions of higher education can be more current regarding work environments and their policies for employees, especially women, minorities, and other underrepresented populations. After receiving my MEd, I moved to the 9th island (aka Las Vegas, NV) to be with my partner. The year I moved up, the 2008 recession had hit hard and I couldn't find a job in higher education. It all worked out though, and I was able to work at a lovely little school for over three years reigniting my passion for education at all levels. To this day, I miss being a classroom teacher, but I know I’m still teaching, just in other ways. Upon my return to Hawai‘i, I started working at Kapi‘olani Community College as an academic advisor and moved over to UH Mānoa in 2014. I currently work as an academic advisor at UH Mānoa’s College of Education, which has been a perfect fit for me with my prior teaching experience.

What part of your work excites you the most or gives you the most satisfaction?

I love helping students navigate the often bureaucratic system of higher education and seeing them succeed. It could be anything from passing a class that they were having trouble with, to getting into one of our teacher education programs, to graduating, or overcoming a personal struggle. 

It’s so inspiring to see students set goals, work hard, and accomplish what they set out to do. It might not always be the smooth path they were hoping for, but the confidence they gain knowing they did it despite those challenges and their persistence is what inspires me to keep coming in every day.

What advice would you give students to help them prepare for their career?

Enjoy the journey. That sounds so cheesy, but like most clichés, they are embedded in our culture for a reason. I see a lot of stressed out students who are racing to the finish line and trying to fit in everything as efficiently as possible, thinking that their lives will start after they get their degree. But they are missing out on the fact that life is happening right now in front of them. The students who are savoring the experience and being present are the students who are more happy, less stressed, and overall more balanced. I also encourage my students to be open and honest with themselves and those around them. Sometimes students are going through the motions without stopping to think more deeply about what they are doing, the impact they are having on others, and what that means. I truly believe taking the time to reflect honestly on one’s actions allows us to live more purposefully and use our unique gifts to help others.

What was your inspiration for Emma’s Adventure?

The book was based on the first time I had to leave my daughter Emma for a conference. She was almost three and was having a hard time grasping the concept of me leaving for a work trip, even though we tried to talk to her about it in different ways, multiple times. She really loved books, so I started looking for a book about a mom who worked, or a mom leaving on a work trip and I couldn't find anything. Our goodbye at the airport was so dramatic (Emma crying uncontrollably like my husband was kidnapping her), that I wrote the first draft of the book on the airplane. I ended up telling my supervisor, the late Dr. Ernest "Niki" Libarios, about my idea. He was so encouraging that after he unexpectedly passed, I knew I had to finish my goal and pursue making my idea into a reality.

What was your biggest challenge in writing a children’s book?

The biggest challenge, but also the part I loved most about writing a children’s book is making sure that my words resonate with the intended audience (ages 3-8). 

I enjoyed taking abstract concepts like work trips, higher education, and time, and writing about them in a way that builds upon a young child’s understanding of that concept. It is also something I really enjoy as a parent. Helping my kids understand the world around them, in an age-appropriate way.

What kinds of feedback have you received from readers so far (parents and children alike)?

I have been so grateful for all the warm comments about the book from children and their parents. However, I get really excited when I hear parents or kids give feedback that validates my reasons for writing the book. For example, it has been awesome to hear parents say that it helped them and their children better navigate a transition like a parent leaving on a work trip, or help start the conversation of talking to their kids about their jobs. Or kids telling me that it is their favorite book and seeing their book reports that they have been done on it.

One of the best compliments I got was from a COE student who will be using the book in her language art lesson plan on narratives with her 1st grade students. She said it was one of the only narrative books she could find for the 1st grade age group. I really appreciated that, because telling a story from a child’s point of view was very important to me. From my teaching experience and my parenting experience, it seems like the majority of children’s books out there are from the perspective of someone else disseminating knowledge to a child. Besides using a female main character (to address gender bias in children’s literature), I also wanted to make sure the child was explaining their understanding of their experiences first hand.

For more information on Emma’s Adventure or to purchase a copy, visit crdg.hawaii.edu/emmas-adventure/.

University of Hawai‘i Alumni