As part of Founders’ Week celebrations, three extraordinary members of the Chaminade University ‘ohana were recognized with Heritage Awards for their tireless work to put Marianist values into action.
Dr. Elizabeth Park, director of Early Childhood and Montessori programs and the Castle Teacher Resource Activity Center, was the recipient of the Chaminade Award in recognition of her work to embrace the Catholic intellectual tradition and seek out ways to promote social justice and peace.
The Marianist Award was presented to Chaminade Communications Manager Stacey Higa, who was recognized for her strong commitment to the Marianist value of family spirit and for her work to build a collaborative community centered around openness, hospitality, graciousness and faith.
And finally, Celine Mesiona-Perez was named the recipient of the Founders’ Award, presented to a student who demonstrates generosity and respect for others, serves as an exemplary role model for the community, and is engaged in service to others, especially those who are disadvantaged.
The honorees were recognized at a special ceremony on April 6 following the Founders’ Day Mass at Mystical Rose Oratory. The event was the culmination of a series of gatherings meant to celebrate not only the founders of the Marianist family—including the university’s namesake—but the characteristics of a Marianist education and the values and mission that are central to Chaminade’s identity.
Other events included a lei draping ceremony and prayer service, an exhibition of works from the Marianists & the Arts series of workshops, and International Extravaganza—a hugely popular showcase of cultural performances put on by student clubs that coincided with Father Chaminade’s birthday.
The Rector’s Office presents the Heritage Awards, which are meant to celebrate the special contributions of a faculty member, support staff member and student who embody Marianist values.
Those who nominated Park for the Chaminade Award highlighted her collaborative spirit, tireless commitment to drive positive change, and her belief in her students and in the university’s mission.
“Dr. Park has been, and continues to be, a valued member of the Chaminade faculty and an exceptionally motivated and caring professor,” wrote Dr. Dale Fryxell, dean of the School of Education and Behavioral Sciences, in nominating her for the award. “The impact that Dr. Park is making at Chaminade, in her profession, in the community and internationally can clearly be seen.”
Park said she was humbled and honored when she learned she would be receiving the award.
She added that Marianist values resonate with her and with the work she does to bolster early education opportunities. “To educate in the family spirit and for service, justice and peace is to be mindful and work as a community,” she said, adding that Marianist values like peace education and educating for adaptation and change are woven into the Early Childhood Education curriculum. “We respect and support each other but also stand up for each other in the face of injustice.”
Park also said that at Chaminade she has learned to “grow and embrace my calling in life.”
Marianist Award nominations for Higa came in from across the university—from Chaminade administrators, fellow support staff and faculty members. Lisa Furuta, vice president of University Communications and Marketing (UCM), wrote that Higa is always up for a challenge in service to Chaminade’s mission and its Marianist values and embraces a collaborative spirit to get things done.
“There are those who run away from a fire and those who run into the flames. Stacey would invariably do the latter if given the choice. However, it is her magnetic and ‘one team’ personality that draws others into the charge with her,” Furuta wrote, adding Higa is “indispensable” to her colleagues.
Furuta also wrote if your day is off to a slow start or if you are feeling down, “your best prescription would be to visit Stacey for a dose of positivity and optimism. Stacey has created a palpable feeling of warmth and enduring faith here on campus … and makes others feel instantly welcome.”
Higa said she was moved by the recognition. She added as a member of the Communications and Marketing Department, she is not only proud to belong to such a special community but “see firsthand all the amazing work and community impacts that our faculty, staff, students and alumni do every day.”
“I get to see our Marianist values alive,” she said. “I am so excited and honored to be part of this community where values and the family spirit are important. This award isn’t just a reflection of me, but also my colleagues in UCM because we truly work as a team and try to be good collaborators and partners with other university departments.”
Mesiona-Perez, who received the Founders’ Award, is pursuing a Forensic Science degree with a Chemistry minor. She is also very active on campus, including in Campus Ministry, student government and several clubs. Faculty members and staff who nominated Mesiona-Perez said she is not only a positive role model to her fellow students but to everyone in the Chaminade community.
“Her presence in the classroom environment is always underpinned by honest, genuine interactions,” Dr. Katelynn Perrault, an associate professor of Forensic Sciences and Chemistry, wrote to the Heritage Awards Committee. “She is concerned with being a voice for those who do not always have the ability to represent their own. It is a pleasure to have someone in our program with admirable qualities like this.”
Mesiona-Perez said she has found a “home away from home” at Chaminade and was floored by the special recognition. “The family that I have found here is made up of countless individuals who endlessly influence, equip and inspire me to be the best leader that I can be,” she said.
At Chaminade, Mesiona-Perez added, she has been able to pursue her love for STEM, strengthen her Christian faith, and deepen her passion for servant leadership. “In everything that I do, I desire to share the love that I have so gracefully received my Heavenly Father unto them,” she said, adding that she wants “others to feel at home, accepted, with a sense of belonging” at Chaminade—just as she is.