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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Four picked for prestigious Rotary scholarships

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Hawaii Rotary 5000 District has awarded its 2006-07 ambassadorial academic and university teacher scholarships to four Hawai'i residents for study in Jerusalem, England and Venezuela.

While expanding their academic horizons, Christiane Connors of Maunawili, Lee Hiromoto of Wahiawa, Britton Brooks of 'Aiea and Samantha Black of Hilo will give 10 to 15 public presentations about Hawai'i and America as part of their scholarship requirements.

To fulfill her ambassadorial requirement while studying at University of Sussex in Brighton, England, Connors is putting together an eight-minute video presentation of footage she shot of local scenery, ocean sports such as kayaking and paddling, and a lava flow to give her audience a "small taste" of Hawai'i.

"You can't fit Hawai'i into one sentence," Connors said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where she is working for the nonprofit National Democratic Institute. "While I would never want to sugar-coat anything, I'm going to show the things we appreciate about Hawai'i. The next step, if they ask questions, I will tell them how it could be better.

"I want to do a second presentation on America, looking at New York and D.C."

Dyana Winkler was also selected as an ambassadorial scholar but the 25-year-old from Kilauea, Kaua'i, will likely turn down the award because she cannot use it to pursue her film studies at a French institute.

Charles Weems, a University of Hawai'i professor of animal science who co-chairs the Rotary district's selection committee with his wife, Yoshie Suzuki Weems, said equal consideration is given to academic excellence and ambassadorial skills in picking the scholars.

"They're all outstanding. They won't get by the committee if they aren't," Weems said. "If a situation like 9/11 occurs and we have kids abroad, we don't want them to cut and run (to come home). That's why we select kids who are very adaptable to be ambassadors for Hawai'i and the U.S.

"When they do their presentations, we want them to tell people about themselves, their families and Hawai'i. They are salespersons for Hawai'i. We've evaluated the kids on community service they've done from high school through college."

The ambassadorial scholarships cover roundtrip airfare, tuition, fees and living expenses. Students can receive up to $26,000 apiece but the exact amount of the awards are still being calculated, Weems said.

All four scholars have outstanding credentials, he said.

  • Christiane Maria Leilani Connors, 26, attended Punahou and graduated cum laude from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., (2002) with a degree in American studies. She earned five varsity letters in track and golf at Bowdoin College in Maine (1998-2000), where she was a Sarah & James Bowdoin scholar. Connors will study anthropology and development at University of Sussex, beginning in September, leading up to a master's degree.

    She is a former Peace Corps volunteer who taught English as a foreign language in the Central African nation of Gabon from 2003 to 2005.

    "At the end of my service, I no longer navigated just as a tourist or as someone with a fleeting curiosity about the people and culture, but as a professional working within an ethnically and historically diverse country," Connors said of her experience in Gabon. "It is from this launching point that I now seek to expand my understanding of this geographical area and to use my grass-roots experience to create an academic basis in anthropology and development work."

  • Lee Hiromoto, 23, attended Punahou and will earn his undergraduate degree May 23 as Yale University's first major in Portuguese. He has won several fellowships, including the Richard U. Light Fellowship for study in Japan at Nanzan University in Nagoya and the Sea-pine Fellowship for study in Brazil. Hiromoto will attend The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Mount Scopus to further his study of Arabic and hopes to enroll in law school, possibly at the University of California Berkeley, after his study year in Jerusalem.

    "I've always been interested in world and current events," Hiromoto said by telephone from New Haven, Conn. "I'm looking forward to a productive and enlightening year in Jerusalem, where I hope to explore the cultural, linguistic and historical richness of the Middle East."

  • Britton Brooks, 24, attended 'Aiea High School and graduated from the University of Hawai'i-Manoa with a degree in English language and literature. He will study Anglo-Saxon to Medieval English at the University of Oxford in England, the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

    "I love to study history, our language and how it developed," said Brooks, who teaches English as a second language at a local college.

    Brooks, who wants to be a college professor, has done Christian ministry work in Japan and spent last summer studying archaeology at a dig site in Egypt.

    In addition to his academic pursuits, he surfs and plays guitar in the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship musical group at UH.

  • Samantha Black, "in her 30s," is a professional cellist and music teacher who hopes to study music and psychology in Venezuela. She performs with Kona Symphony Orchestra, Kamuela Philharmonic, and Volcano Chamber Players. Black also teaches music at several Big Island schools, including Kona Pacific Waldorf and Hawai'i Preparatory Academy.

    "I am working toward licensure as an expressive arts psychologist," Black said. "I hope to do research in Venezuela on healing through music. I will also be doing volunteer work for Rotary, possibly teaching music at an orphanage."

    Winkler, who is working as an au pair in Paris, said she will likely turn down her award because she cannot use it to pursue her film studies at the prestigious Institut National de L'Audiovisuel.

    "I feel broken-hearted that I might lose such an amazing chance, but right now, there's no opportunity to study what I was hoping to study that fits the Rotary rules and regulations," Winkler said by phone from Paris.

    The INA accepts only six students a year and rarely a foreigner, but Winkler was granted entrance into INA's six-month program in film editing.

    A Kapa'a High graduate, Winkler earned a degree in economics and Asian studies from 169-year-old Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., the nation's oldest continuing institution of higher learning for women. Winkler became interested in filmmaking when she produced a documentary in 2002 while studying in Nepal and volunteering at an orphanage. Winkler returned to Asia in 2004 to work in Bhutan. She has learned enough Nepali and Dzongkha, the language of Bhutan, "to get by."

    Rotary 5000 district governor Rosalyn "Roz" Cooper called the scholar program "the biggest indication of the continued belief and faith that the students who are ambassadorial scholars today will be our leaders of tomorrow, both at home and around the world."

    Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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