Award Collage
Rockne Freitas, James Hirai, and Harold Nishimura

Rockne Freitas, James Hirai, and Harold Nishimura have been named 2017 University of Hawai‘i (UH) Distinguished Alumni. Selected out of all the UH campuses after an international appeal, these College of Education (COE) alumni are being recognized for their professional excellence, inspirational leadership, and service to the university and community.

Former Chancellor of UH West O‘ahu, Freitas earned both an MEd and EdD in Education from the COE. With more than 20 years in key leadership roles at the university, he has served as the vice president for student affairs and university/community relations for the UH System; worked on special projects system-wide, including the completion of Hawai‘i Community College‒Pālamanui; and assisted with the development of the new West O‘ahu campus. He also served as chancellor of Hawai‘i Community College where he was the chief executive of the main campus in Hilo and its UH Center in West Hawai‘i. Prior to that, he was vice president and executive director of the Ke Ali‘i Pauahi Foundation, held leadership positions at Kamehameha Schools and GRG Enterprises as well as posts as vice president for university relations for the UH System and associate athletic director for UH Mānoa, and he was a trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Freitas received numerous honors as a former National Football League player and coach, including induction into the Oregon State University Sports Hall of Fame, Hawai‘i Sports Hall of Fame, and the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. While earning his doctoral degree in education from the COE, he focused his research on developmental systems and guidelines for drug prevention, education, monitoring and counseling for intercollegiate athletics.

Hirai, a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General, earned a BEd in Elementary Education from the COE. During his 31-year military career, he served in a range of leadership positions.  He was the special assistant to the Commander, Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan, leading external support to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and National Army. In the Asia-Pacific region, Hirai was commander of U.S. Army Alaska; chief of staff of U.S. Army Pacific; commander of the U. S. Army Garrison, Hawai‘i; commander of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 25th Infantry Division (Light); and staff member for two tours on the Commander U.S. Pacific Command. His career also included a post as Deputy Commandant, U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; six years with the Army Rangers; and tours with Army units in Washington, Texas, Kentucky, and Germany as an infantryman in Air Assault, Airborne Ranger, Mechanized and Light units. His military awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit fifth award, Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Expert Infantryman Badge, Master Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, and the Ranger Tab. In 2006, Hirai joined the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (DKI APCSS) as deputy director. He supports organizations that perpetuate the legacy of Japanese-American World War II veterans and he promotes the work of the Pan-Pacific American Leaders and Mentors.

Retired Hawai‘i Community College Professor of Carpentry, Nishimura earned a BEd in Secondary Education from the COE. He is credited with the major growth and development of Hawai‘i Community College over the course of his 24-year career. Giving students hands-on experience in carpentry and construction, he coordinated several projects, including one of the college’s most well-known, the Model Home Project. Each year, Career and Technical Education (CTE) program students participate in the project, designing, constructing, preparing the site, and conducting the electrical work and landscaping of a new home for a Native Hawaiian family. Nishimura was also instrumental in improving professional and personal development opportunities for Hawai‘i Community College’s staff. He has been honored with two Outstanding Instructor Merit awards, an Excellence in Teaching Award, and was named one of the University of Hawai‘i Community Colleges “50 Finest” in 2014. Prior to becoming a professor, he worked for commercial building contractor S.K. Oda, residential contractor S. Yamada Contractor, and as a carpenter for the Department of Defense. For more than four decades, starting in 1952, Nishimura served in the Hawai‘i Army National Guard’s 487th Field Artillery Battalion and later the 2nd Battalion, 299th Infantry, retiring as a chief warrant officer in 1995.

A dinner will be held to honor these distinguished alumni on Thursday, May 18th, at the Sheraton Waikīkī Hotel. More information and registration.

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