Donna Lanej, MEd in Curriculum Studies

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Donna Lanej
“I love being surrounded by family and a community where everyone knows everyone. There is no place like home.”

Ebeye Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI)


Curriculum Studies


Master of Education (MEd) in Curriculum Studies, PACMED* Program

Where do you live?
I live on the tiny island of Ebeye in the Kwajalein Atoll. The Kwajalein Missle Range is based 20 minutes from where I live. Ebeye is one of the densely populated urban islands in the RMI. I am very fortunate to let all know that I am a native of Ebeye – born and raised, went away for high school and college, and could not resist coming back to help my fellow community. I love being surrounded by family and a community where everyone knows everyone. There is no place like home.

You were selected to deliver a commencement speech. What was the theme?
Thankfulness. There was so much work done by so many people that allowed the program to take place. My speech acknowledged and thanked our families, colleagues, staff, and UH for making this program a success.

Where do you work?
I am the principal of Kwajalein Atoll High School at Gugeegeegu (30 minute drive from Ebeye).

Describe your road to college.
My road to college was first instilled in me by my father. He always told all six of us children to strive to earn a college degree. As a student at Xavier High School, I was exposed to countrymen and women who held good positions in our government, and they were role models for me. My father’s teachings and my pride in community was what pushed me to go forward to college.

Being away from my family during high school shaped me to become an independent person who is able to learn how to work with challenges that come my way. My four years attending Xavier High School were probably the molding periods that gave me the confidence to go out and explore and not be afraid to make mistakes. This is what really motivated me to become the person I am today.

Why did you select the UHM COE?
I entered the education sector not planning to become an educator. Through my experiences teaching and leading a school, I became aware of what I had not known and saw that I still had a lot to learn. From giving the right assessments to students to the right professional development for my teachers to finding parenting skills that would help my students – I lacked the insight and the tools I needed in all of these areas.

The program at the COE is designed in a way that allows me to learn new strategies and to apply them right on the spot. This was something that I saw unique about the program.

What does the PACMED program mean to you?
The PACMED program is very enriching and so relevant to us. Learning is meaningful and fun in this program, and it should be delivered in all the Pacific Island schools.

Is there anyone in particular who inspired you along the way?
Along the way, I was inspired by both Dr. Deb Zuercher and Dr. Paul Deering. Both showed us their compassionate and true self, not only as professors, but also as friends. They made our journey so doable and enjoyable. I loved every moment of it.

What are your plans now that you have graduated?
My current plan is to find a feasible way to share with my colleagues what I have learned. I also want to continue to learn, even if it means assisting the new cohort that is taking the course at the moment. And hopefully, I will continue my education and pursue a PhD around the field of curriculum studies with a culturally-responsive emphasis on a stem-based curriculum. I wonder what that would look like.

* PACMED is a degree program in the Department of Curriculum Studies with a focus on culturally responsive, Pacific, placed-based STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). The first cohort of the PACMED program graduated in July 2019.