Our Islands, Our Future

Maui Waena Intermediate School media teacher Jennifer Suzuki shows how hard work and support from the Maui Economic Development Board can make a difference in the education of the island’s young people. After graduating in 1988 from Baldwin High School, Suzuki was hired as a rental car sales representative. She learned that work in sales was not her passion. So, she began looking for a new career, knowing in her heart that “I always liked helping people.”

Suzuki enrolled in college, earning a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Hawaii at Hilo in 1997, followed by a post-baccalaureate education certificate from the University of Hawaii Maui Center. While at the center, she was encouraged by her mentor, Victor Pellegrino, to tutor college students in English. “I just realized I could help people,” she said. She had stints as a teacher for hospitalized, mentally ill students and for those facing family and substance abuse challenges. Eleven years ago, she was hired at Maui Waena where she’s taught 8th-grade Language Arts, and in the last 3-1/2 years taught computer introduction, media and news writing to 6th, 7th and 8th-graders.

Suzuki’s association with MEDB began when she sought to establish a new media lab. She initiated a student newspaper and TV broadcast and built a STEMworks computer lab. “I never want to be considered a teacher of technology,” she said, “more like one who used technology as a way to teach how to communicate and be creative.” Suzuki’s new lab contains a variety of computers, software and cameras with at least half purchased through MEDB and its Women in Technology Project. “MEDB has been phenomenal,” she said. Suzuki and her students have also attended MEDB trainings, and her students have gone on to share their know-how with peers on Lanai and with elementary-aged pupils.

Suzuki’s career exemplifies the Focus Maui Nui value of education and fostering the well-being of young people, enabling them, if they choose, to live on Maui and become valuable, contributing members of the island’s community and good stewards of local treasures.