Speaking from experience, Brent Nakihei knows how hard life can be after living a life of drugs, alcohol and incarceration.
“From 1989 to 2003, I was a dealer, user and destroyer of the Moloka‘i community,” said Brent, a 2015 Makaloa Scholarship recipient. “When I was released from jail, I thought to myself, there must be something better than this.”
Brent saw higher education as the key to turning his life around, but more importantly, a way to give back to the Moloka‘i community that he once destroyed.
In 2005, and with encouragement from his counselor at the Hale Ho‘okupa‘a Substance Abuse Treatment Center, he registered with the University of Hawai‘i Maui College – Moloka‘i Education Center. The center serves Moloka‘i residents by providing a wide-range of credit and non-credit courses, certificate and degree programs as part of the UH Maui College.
“Because I have experience in the drug scene and the recovery road, people look down on me,” said Brent. “I learned that if I educated myself on different levels, people will listen to me.”
Since that first year of college in 2005, Brent has excelled in his studies, as well as in life. He earned two Associate in Science degrees by 2009 from the Moloka‘i Education Center—one for substance abuse counseling and another for general human services—while maintaining a GPA of 3.9 and being inducted to the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He later added an Associate of Liberal Arts in 2010 with a GPA of 3.9, which was also from the Moloka‘i Education Center. In 2013, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in social science with a minor in criminal justice from Ashford University – Iowa, all while maintaining a GPA of 3.8 and being inducted into the Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society.
While going to school, Brent was hired as a counselor at Hale Ho‘okupa‘a to help people dealing with the same problems he once faced. He is now certified as a Substance Abuse Counselor, a Criminal Justice Professional and an International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor.
Currently, Brent is on his final year of completing a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Hawai‘i Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work. He is set to graduate in May 2016.
“Education is very important because one, I have a voice, two, it is a gift to myself and my kūpuna, and three, my kids can see that if daddy can do it, they can too,” added Brent.