Jade Pham and Rory Inouye

UH Mānoa College of Education (COE) alumni, Jade Pham and Rory Inouye, were surprised with Milken Educator Awards during assemblies at their schools in early April. Considered the highest accolade for educators, the award and accompanying $25,000 cash prize are given to the best elementary and secondary school teachers, principals, and specialists nationally who are early-to-mid career and have already shown excellence and promise.

Pham, who earned her MEdT in Dual Secondary & Special Education, was presented with the Milken award at Kawānanakoa Middle School. A National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), she serves as the school’s student services coordinator. Set to start the PhD in Education (Exceptionalities program) in the COE this Fall 2024, Pham says her interest in the field of education was sparked during the last semester of her undergraduate program in political science.

“I decided to become a teacher in order to empower and provide opportunities for at-risk children, similar to what my own teachers did for me,” Pham said. “I’m very lucky to be able to identify so many teachers throughout my educational journey who truly cared for and supported me. This award is for my school, my students, my mentors, and my community.”

Attributing the exceptional foundation for her career to the COE, Pham shared that her instructors taught her to design effective assessments, deliver high-quality instruction, and manage professional responsibilities.

“All of my instructors were amazing, but I would like to say a special thank you to Dr. Sara Cook, my cohort advisor; Dr. Steve Klein, my MUSE mentor; and Dr. Janet Kim, my recruiter, for their continual guidance even after I graduated from the program. Also, a huge congratulations to fellow Milken Educator awardee, Rory Inouye!” Pham said.

Inouye, who earned his BEd in Secondary Education at the COE and an MEd in Education from UH Hilo, received his Milken award during an assembly at Waiākea High School where he teaches mathematics. Part of a long legacy of educators, Inouye’s parents were teachers for more than 30 years. His dad taught agriculture at Pāhoa High & Intermediate School, and his mom was a preschool teacher at Kamehameha Preschools.

“Growing up, I saw the proud look in their eyes when they would see their former students in the community,” Inouye said. “The rewarding feeling of being a positive influence in their student’s lives was evident. Especially being in a small town like Hilo, these connections are even more meaningful. I moved home after graduating from UH Mānoa because Hilo has a special place in my heart, and I knew that this is where I wanted to teach, raise a family, and be a part of this community.”

Inouye’s parents are not the only educators who paved the way for his career. His 104-year-old grandmother, Hilda Fo, was Vice Principal at Mānoa Elementary. He also has numerous aunts and uncles who devoted their careers to education. His brother and sister-in-law are teachers at Waiākea Intermediate School. Inouye jokes that his family reunions are like a DOE meeting.

“There are so many people who have helped me become the person I am today,” Inouye said. “Glenn Nakaya, my boss at Les Murakami Stadium, and Rod Suzuki, my cooperating teacher at Kaimukī Middle School, instilled strong qualities of respect, hard work, and the ability to adapt. I also want to recognize my high school math teacher, Mr. Gordon Mau, who was my baseball coach and someone I can call a friend today. As a Milken Educator Awardee, I feel like I must pass on the values they instilled in me to the next wave of educators.”

Enrolling in education classes as an undergraduate, Inouye says the COE was the best start to his teaching career, citing classes such as special education and psychology of teaching, as well as math instruction strategies, with giving him invaluable insight into the classroom.

“To anyone interested in pursuing a career in education, know that it is challenging. Some days the kids are crazy, some days you sit in meetings that could be emails, and some days you ask yourself if you are making a difference,” Inouey said. “But when you take a step back and see the many students you are impacting, the way these students grow and contribute to the very community you love, teaching is worth every minute and every challenge.”

UH News Story
Milken News Release (Pham)
Milken News Release (Inouye)


Stay Connected

Receive a monthly newsletter covering COE news, events, and announcements

Sign Up