Puakailima Davis

Puakailima Davis, who earned her PhD in education from the College of Education (COE), is the winner a 2016 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Outstanding Dissertation Recognition Award. Davis was selected for using innovative methods, integrating relevant research and theory, and contributing to the area of study for other researchers and practitioners. She was recognized during AERA’s annual meeting in Washington D.C.

An indigenous research analyst and drama educator, Davis also earned a master’s degree in educational administration from the COE. Her doctoral dissertation, Ha‘i Mo‘olelo a me Hana Keaka: Re-imagining arts educational standards as culturally driven storytelling and drama for Hawaii’s children, indicates how culturally based drama-driven storytelling can enhance student understanding of cultural values and practices associated with a Hawaiian kuana‘ike (perspective).

“Policy makers and curriculum developers need to consider incorporating drama and culture to advance children’s opportunities in gaining a deeper awareness and connection to their cultural identity and heritage,” Davis said. “Our kupuna (ancestors) left a legacy through oral traditions. In this study, I am creating a legacy through ha‘i mo‘olelo (storytelling) and hana keaka (drama) that I hope will positively impact all kamali‘i (children) in Hawai‘i.

Growing up in the fishing village of Ke‘ei and Kealakekua in Kona, Hawai‘i, Davis says education has always been very important to her family. Watching her dad earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the COE, she was inspired to attend college and become the first in her family to receive a PhD. Her father, in turn, was inspired to begin his doctoral studies while Davis was working on hers.

“Throughout her dissertation, Puakailima demonstrated superior scholarship, dedication to her culture and community, and a determination of spirit seldom seen,” said Sarah Twomey, Davis’s dissertation chair. Davis attributes her award to COE faculty, namely Twomey, for honing her research skills and nurturing her passion for culture, drama, and storytelling. As an educator, Davis designs and develops drama curriculum for children, especially in early childhood settings.

“I aspire to be a higher education instructor and curriculum leader for our twenty-first century kamali‘i within the academic community,” she concluded. “Through a vibrant drama curriculum, I further desire to express my Native Hawaiian culture through the mediums of theatre and film productions in the future.”

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