Keep in mind as you read this month’s Ka ‘Ohana — it is a special issue. Ka ‘Ohana’s advisor and journalism and English professor Elizabeth “Libby” Young is set to retire this June after 35 years of teaching at Windward Community College.
Through her years of teaching, Young has, no doubt, influenced many students. Whether in her classes for only a semester, or a few, many have noticed how Young impacts the lives of her students.
“I’ve watched her hands-on teaching style help mold more students’ futures than I can count,” said Patrick Hascall, who has worked alongside Young on the staff of Ka ‘Ohana for eight years as a student, a lab assistant and a volunteer.
Many of Young’s students have gone on to successful careers in journalism and related fields at organizations such as the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, MidWeek, KHON and KITV.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser special sections editor Bill Mossman recalled how Young influenced his career after joining Ka ‘Ohana’s staff in 1990. “I immediately fell in love with newspapers! Since then, I’ve worked as a reporter, features writer and editor, and owe much of who I’ve become to Libby’s journalistic knowledge, outstanding teaching skills and nurturing guidance.”
Raymond Choy, a former WCC student who now works as deputy director of public affairs for the Oregon Military Department, wrote what he’s observed of Young as a teacher and mentor: “She always makes time for her students (even former students), and her every accomplishment is lauded as that of the group, not her own.
“This is the hallmark of a great teacher: the ability to successfully and patiently instruct, instill a sense of confidence and allow students to achieve greatness, all without the student even realizing what is happening. Then when it’s time for the limelight to shine, she quietly steps aside and allows her students to fully bask in it.”
Young grew up in Detroit and later went on to attend the University of Michigan (U-M). While there, she landed an internship in public relations at the U-M Hospital in Ann Arbor.
In 1969, she moved to Hawai‘i and took a position at the University of Hawaii (UH) as an editor of the alumni magazine. A year later, UH created a public relations/information position for the community college system and hired Young. She worked in the PR department for seven years until leaving her job for the birth of her daughter, Katie.
Since her PR position involved visiting the different CC campuses, Young said she felt inspired to teach at the college level.
“Part of my job involved interviewing students about their experiences,” she recalled. “I got to see how their lives had been transformed through a community college. It was just so inspirational. The more I got to know what the CCs were about, the more I came to believe in their mission. They were making a real difference in students’ lives, changing lives.”
She said she had her eyes set on WCC after being able to compare the seven community college campuses. “WCC is the youngest (of the UH community colleges.) There’s something of a ‘pioneer spirit’ here since the buildings were inherited from the Hawai‘i State Hospital. They had to make do with what they had.
“Part of my job was to help plan the opening ceremony in 1972, so I felt a ‘kinship’ to the campus. When I wanted to teach, I already had a connection to WCC. The family ‘ohana spirit isn’t manufactured here; it really does exist. I think we are surrounded by good people—people who care.”
Young came to WCC in 1980 to teach news writing and the newspaper lab. While teaching part-time, she attended UH Mānoa to obtain her master’s in English and become eligible for full-time work. While taking a composition and rhetoric course, Young came across an influential teacher, Dr. Joy Marsella.
“She was so supportive and nurturing,” said Young. “Her commitment to writing came through in everything she did. I would name her as someone who really helped me think about teaching writing professionally.”
Young was appointed to a full-time instructor position in 1989. During her years at WCC, Libby’s list of achievements are lengthy, although it is not something she touts or brags about. In fact, many people probably aren’t aware of how she’s helped initiate change, not only at WCC, but in the community as well.
In 1991, she, along with WCC photography professor Mark Hamasaki and student representatives, lobbied for funding to start WCC’s master plan of new buildings. Young recalled how being a part of the lobbying process was rewarding.
“For me, it was the first time I got involved in the political process in a real grassroots way. I got to see how there were things average citizens could do if they believed strongly enough in something.”
Their efforts paid off that year with $12.6 million from the Legislature to begin what would become a legacy of new and renovated buildings. Gov. David Ige’s present chief of staff, Mike McCartney (Kāne‘ohe’s senator from 1988-1998), was instrumental in helping WCC gain funding year after year, Young said.
“We kept going back to the Legislature to keep the master plan going: Hale Kuhina, the science building, the Imaginarium, Palikū Theatre, Pālanakila classrooms, the campus center and finally, the library-learning center,” Young continued. “If only current students could know what it took to have the facilities we enjoy today.”
Young said, “To be able to see the results of our efforts in the form of new buildings — that’s very rewarding because it affects whole generations of students who are going to come after us.”
In 2000, she helped launch the Windward Hoʻolauleʻa, a partnership between WCC and the Kaneohe Business Group to raise student scholarship funds.
Young also founded the Star Poets program, a statewide poetry competition that ran from 2001 to 2013. The program offered poetry workshops and resources to low-income schools. Winning poems were featured in the Honolulu Theater for Youth production, “Poetry Fever,” that toured statewide.
All of Young’s hard work has not gone unnoticed. She has been recognized through numerous awards. Young received the UH Board of Regents Excellence in Teaching Award in 1990.
In 1991, she and Hamasaki were selected for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s “Ten Who Made a Difference” in the state for helping with WCC’s master plan.
She was named the state’s Carnegie Foundation Professor of the Year in 1995, being the first community college professor to receive the award.
She’s also recognized as able to mold her journalism classes into tight-knit teams, meeting deadlines and churn- ing out issues of Ka ‘Ohana.
They have consistently won first-place national awards for excellence from the American Scholastic Press Association, as well as several second-place state awards for college newspapers from the Hawaii Publishers Association.
The tight bond of the staff and Ka ‘Ohana’s awards can be attributed to Young’s dedication. Alice Keesing, one of Young’s former students who now owns her own photography business, described being part of the Ka ‘Ohana staff.
“As with all successful people, Libby is tireless. She was always on campus, from early in the morning to late at night. It’s a testament to her personality that her newspaper staff did not consider it onerous to spend many of those hours with her, following her well-worn path to the Coke machine to power us through those deadline nights.”
Through the years, many of Young’s students have won Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) internship awards, going on to work summers testing out skills learned in Young’s classes and picking up new skills.
The local chapter of the SPJ plans to induct her into the Hall of Fame this June 26.
In March, many of Young’s colleagues and former students wrote letters to nominate her for SPJ’s “Distinguished Teaching in Journalism” award. Bestowed annually, the winner of this national award will be announced in July. If Young wins, it will be the first time it’s awarded to a community college professor.
So, what does Young plan to do with all this free time once she retires? She said she’s excited to spend more time with family, especially her three grandkids. There’s already a trip planned in June to visit California and Disneyland.
Young said she’ll be around campus, but not to teach. “I’d like to take Kamuela Kimokeo’s ‘ukulele class,” she said.
As she wrote in an essay for the 2007 Rain Bird’s Jubilee issue “It’s called learning—and it never gets old.”
by Jessica Crawford, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter