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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 16, 2002

UH-Hilo to graduate its first distance-learning students

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — Two students from Maui and two from O'ahu will receive degrees this weekend from the University of Hawai'i-Hilo as the first distance learners who took most of their classes off-island via the Internet and Hawai'i Interactive Television.

They are the first UHH graduates from this high-tech program, but probably not the last. Seventy-four students were enrolled for the spring semester in such wide-ranging distance-learning courses as computer science and Hawaiian studies.

The figure includes 52 students on Maui, seven on Kaua'i, six on Moloka'i, five in West Hawai'i and four on O'ahu.

Enrollment alone has demonstrated the viability of distance learning, said Judith Gersting, chair of UHH's highly rated computer science department. The department's students have been ranked in the top 10 percent nationally for several years.

"These degree candidates have worked very hard for four long years to reach this special moment, taking courses via distance education while holding down full-time jobs," she said.

Bill Chen helped start the computer science program and now works as director of technology and distance learning.

Another Maui distance-learning student is due to receive a degree in August. Numbers are expected to rise thereafter.

The four students graduating this weekend are:

  • Amory Burgess, Waipahu, computer science.
  • Wendell Iwai, Honolulu, computer science.
  • Cynthia Giebenk, Maui, computer science.
  • Jane Maddela, Maui, Hawaiian studies.

Leeward Community College helped the two O'ahu graduates, and Maui Community College was the host for Giebenk and Maddela.

Future efforts are likely to move more toward e-mail programs, according to Gersting, who is trying to launch a new group of students this fall. She can be reached at gersting@hawaii.edu for further details.

Iwai, 41, is not a typical student, but a typical older UHH graduate. He was a construction project coordinator when he decided to bring his job skills up to high-tech standards, said Chen.

"I was computer-illiterate, to say the least, when I started this program," said Iwai, who said he was "shamefully lacking the knowledge of 21st-century technology."

Systems architect Burgess, 26, described the course as "perfect for me.... It allowed me to keep working full-time and take classes at the same time."