University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa alumnus Sakaria “Sai” Auelua-Toomey has been named a 2017 Luce Scholar. This marks the second time in two consecutive years that UH Mānoa has been successful in fostering a Luce Scholar. The Luce Scholars Program identifies promising young leaders for a year-long experience of working in Asia. Seventy-five top universities across the United States nominate up to three candidates annually.
Auelua-Toomey is one of approximately 175 nominees who were considered from across the United States, with about 45 making the final interviews in San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C. About 15–20 Luce Scholars are selected from that pool of finalists annually.
His path to this prestigious fellowship was not traditional. As Auelua-Toomey tells it, he barely finished high school and had no interest in going to college. He spent two years working at a local grocery store and only started to attend Honolulu Community College because he wanted to enter the police program.
As that program was full, he instead tried courses in psychology and speech while waiting. He credits an early Honolulu CC mentor, Associate Professor Jennifer Higa-King, as “seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself.” He earned a 4.0 GPA that year, but did not get accepted into the police program. Instead, he detoured through the Air Force for a year, then used the G.I. Bill to continue his education at UH Mānoa, where he double majored in communicology and psychology, graduating in 2016.
For his ambitious honors thesis in psychology, Auelua-Toomey collaborated with the Interactive Autism Network at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to investigate individuals with autism spectrum disorder perception, which led to his first publication in the Mānoa Horizons undergraduate journal.