The 2024 Fellows

   2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Olena Horcajo Alec

Olena (Horcajo) Alec is the Executive Director of Haleakalā Conservancy, leading their philanthropic efforts to provide funding for projects of critical importance to Haleakalā National Park and its unique and endangered resources. Born and raised on Maui, Olena has spent most of her career away from the islands working within the environmental sector, utilizing education and effective communication to push for meaningful and measurable action. Olena comes to the Conservancy most recently from The Climate Reality Project, where she served as the director of engagement, overseeing the support, engagement, and strategy of tens of thousands of climate activists for seven years. Prior to Climate Reality, she worked in New York City connecting public school teachers and administrators to resources and partners to further their sustainability goals. She is a proud RPCV, having served in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, working with her community on issues of environmental education, conservation, and sustainability. She sits on the board of Students for Climate Action, as it is an honor to work alongside and support student activists to further the conversation on climate change and inspire action. She holds an MPA in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University and a Bachelors of Environmental Studies from USC. It has been a lifelong goal to be back on Maui, contributing to the incredible community and landscape that is home, and you can often find her hiking through Haleakalā National Park with her husband and two daughters. 

2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Christian Apo Takayama

Christian Apo Takayama is a Senior Client Advisor and Product Specialist at BMW of Maui. He was born and raised on Maui, where he graduated from Kamehameha Schools. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Columbia University, where he studied East Asian Languages and Cultures and Physics, he worked for two years as a Project Manager and Account Executive at Thunder11, a public relations firm in New York that
worked primarily with large healthcare and technology companies in the Northeast United States.

Christian returned to Maui after six years in New York to give back to his community and lay down his roots back home. He has been recognized by BMW of North America as a Gold Profiles in Achievement awardee for his outstanding results in sales, customer satisfaction, and brand representation. Christian is passionate about leveraging his skills and resources at BMW of Maui to help build and give back to Maui County. Through his work, BMW of Maui became involved with local organizations such as the Maui Aids Foundation, Hale Makua, Children’s Justice Center, Maui Nui EV Association, and local high schools. Most recently, Christian and BMW worked with the County of Maui to become a Red Cross donation site and provide disaster relief to victims of the Maui wildfires.

In his free time, Christian enjoys spending time with family and traveling the world with his wife, Kasie.

2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Kauanoe Batangan

Kauanoe Batangan has over a decade of experience working in the federal, state, and local levels of government to preserve our unique culture, steward our lands, build economic opportunity, and invest in our people.

Kauanoe currently serves as Deputy Director of Transportation for the County of Maui. In this capacity, he is responsible for overseeing the six public transit programs throughout Maui, Molokai, and Lānaʻi. Additionally, in response to the devastating wildfires on August 8, 2023, Kauanoe has taken on the added role of Recovery Support Function (RSF) Coordinator in the County’s newly established Office of Recovery. As an RSF Coordinator, Kauanoe fosters coordination amongst various government and nonprofit partners to provide post-disaster healthcare and social services.

Kauanoe holds a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science from Stanford University, a Master of Public Administration from Columbia University, and a Master of Public Policy from the University of Tokyo. He is an aliʻi in the Royal Order of Kamehameha I and founder of the Daniel K. Akaka Congressional Fellowship, a program to ensure Native Hawaiian engagement in federal policymaking.

Kauanoe volunteers his time serving on a range of boards and commissions including Common Cause Hawaiʻi, the Maui County Charter Commission, the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the Maui Historical Society.

 2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Jack Dowling

Jack Dowling was born and raised on the island of Maui. Jack attended St. Anthony through middle school before graduating from Taft boarding school in Connecticut. Growing up exposed to real estate led Jack to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Real Estate Finance from Southern Methodist University and later a Master of Business Administration from Kellogg School of Management. During his tenure on the mainland, Jack spent nine years working in real estate finance roles within various firms in Dallas, TX.

Upon moving back to Maui in 2022, Jack assumed the role of Acquisition Director at Dowling Company, a Maui-based real estate development firm committed to “Building in Balance.” Jack’s role amplifies his dedication to promoting responsible development that respects the island’s resources and cultural heritage while providing housing that enhances Maui’s quality of life.

In his spare time, Jack loves spending time with family and friends, hiking, surfing, and traveling. He and his wife, Payton, live with an elderly yellow lab named Chief.


2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Jason Economou

Jason Economou is a local attorney and owner of Economou Law & Consulting, LLLC, a boutique law firm that specializes in government relations, mediation, and corporate facilitation. Jason distinguished himself as an expert in housing policy, land use regulation, and legislative advocacy during his five-year tenure as Government Affairs Director for the Realtors Association of Maui. His diverse professional background includes leading major education reforms and cultural preservation efforts in East Africa, broadcast journalism, litigation, and teaching. Jason holds a BA in English from The Citadel and he earned his JD from Charleston School of Law. 

Shortly after completing law school, Jason joined the United States Peace Corps and served as an education volunteer in Uganda, where he met his wife Lantana, a fellow volunteer. After completing their Peace Corps service and living as expats for a couple of years, Jason followed Lantana back home to Maui, where she was born and raised. Upon moving to Maui, the pair lived in a small off-grid shack in Haiku, but they eventually moved to Paukualo in 2017, where they are currently raising their two-year-old son. 

In addition to his work as an attorney and consultant, Jason serves as Chair of the Maui Food Bank Board of Directors, and he sits on the board of The Maui Family YMCA. Jason also serves as an arbitrator in the Hawaii State Judciary’s Court Annexed Arbitration Program, and regularly volunteers at Kukuipuka Heiau. His favorite pastimes are reading to his son, listening to audiobooks while doing chores, and exercising. 

2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Jayci Alohi Gomes

Jayci, also known as Alohi, was born in Maui and raised throughout the islands of Hawai’i. Almost each year was different as her ‘ohana moved between Maui and other islands. Alohi spent most of her childhood wanting to adopt all the keiki in need, nurse all the kupuna in need, and cuddle all the animals in need. It’s not a surprise that her undergraduate degree with Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, WA was in Social Work. Later returning to Hawai’i and continuing education at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa Thompson School of Social Work and Public Health. Previous work, either volunteering and/or interning with various organizations include: Lili’uokalani Trust’s Hilo Kīpuka, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s Women’s Center, Kamehameha Schools Paukūkalo Preschool, and Family Case Manager for MEO Head Start. From sharing mana’o with haumana to providing support to ‘ohana, Alohi later transitioned to working with our kūpuna.

Alohi Gomes, LSW serves our kūpuna as Hale Makua’s Director of Social Services. Hale Makua is a Maui based non- profit that improves the well-being of those in its care through compassionate personalized health services including rehabilitation, skilled nursing, long term care, home health, day health, and continuing care case management. In the Kahului facility, she is the licensed social worker on site and manages the social services team to ensure that our kūpuna feel loved and empowered while receiving quality care. In addition, assist with navigating the current resources in the community to ensure safe transition from rehab to home.


2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Sterling Higa

Sterling Higa is often wrong, but always seeks truth. He was born in Honolulu and now lives in Ha‘ikū with his wife and four children. He serves as executive director of Housing Hawai‘i’s Future, a movement creating opportunities for Hawai‘i’s next generation by ending the workforce housing shortage. Sterling serves as vice chair of the Hawaii Community Development Authority and as a board member for Stand Up Maui. He enjoys reading and listening to podcasts in his free time.

2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Nicole Huguenin

Nicole Huguenin is a conduit for caring and community. In 2015, she walked with a new person or group of people a day while simultaneously founding Walk2Connect Coop. She now takes on projects and builds organizations that work towards a caring economy over an extractive one. Based in Maui, HI, her current projects include Share Circle and Maui Rapid Response. Her work as a generosity entrepreneur is financially supported on Patreon or by sharing aloha on Exchange Ave.

2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Becky Lind

Becky Elizabeth Lind is a dedicated professional with extensive experience in nonprofit administration and management. She currently serves as the Executive Director of Hana Arts, a role she has held for the last ten years. She also contributes her expertise as a Development Consultant to the J. Walter Cameron Center, Fuzz Box Productions, and Roots Reborn. Additionally, she serves as the Finance Officer for Pacific Birth Collective and holds the position of Event Chair for the Festivals of Aloha in Hana, further demonstrating her diverse skills and commitment to enhancing cultural and community initiatives. Becky is actively involved in community service as the Treasurer of the Hāna Community Association Board and Vice Chair on the Hāna Advisory Committee to the Maui County Council, where she plays an important role in shaping local policies and initiatives. Living between East Maui and Makawao for nearly two decades, Becky is also a devoted mother of two, balancing her profession with a deep commitment to her family and community.

2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Matthew Lugo

Matthew Lugo was born in California and moved to Wailuku, Maui before the age of 3. As Seabury Hall graduate, he developed a passion for science and technology and he earned a Bachelor Of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Here, he learned skills such as working with interdisciplinary teams and how to help lead design; his capstone project was designing and building a novel modular prosthetic arm.

Matthew’s love for engineering grew, and took him to Purdue University, where he earned a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering with a focus on propulsion systems and astrodynamics. There, he had the opportunity to help design a test for NASA’s new green propellant.

For the past two years, Matthew has been employed as an aerospace engineer at Privateer Space, a tech startup in Kihei co-founded by Steve Wozniak. He led the thermal design and orbital analysis of their first space payload, named Pono, and assisted in its mechanical design, assembly, and testing. Additionally, he serves as a local liaison for the company, which wants to ensure respect, care, and love of our home of Maui.

Matthew is passionate about pushing forward the tech industry of Maui and helping ensure some of Hawaii’s brightest minds have employment opportunities to return home to. In his free time, he likes to paddle outrigger, hike, volunteer, and play games with friends and family.


2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Brialyn Onodera

Brialyn Onodera was born and raised on Hawai’i Island where she graduated from Kamehameha Schools Keaʻau campus and her proximity to the telescopes on Maunakea throughout her childhood inspired her to pursue engineering. Brialyn received her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in 2017, her EMBA from the Shidler College of Business in 2022, and her Professional Engineering license in 2023. Brialyn also served on the Mauna Kea Working Group in 2022 in order to help develop a new governance and management structure for Maunakea. Brialyn has worked at the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope since 2017, where she collaborates with her peers to execute various engineering projects and analyze data in support of telescope operations. One of Brialyn’s greatest passions is supporting the visibility and presence of kamaʻāina within STEM projects in Hawaiʻi. In her free time she enjoys reading, traveling, yoga, and concerts.

2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Matt Padgett

Matt Padgett is a lifelong Maui resident who is committed to protecting and preserving Maui Nui’s natural and cultural resources. After graduating in 2001 from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, Matt took an entry-level position in the maintenance division at Haleakala National Park where he worked for most of the next 20 years maintaining trails, cabins, and other facilities as well as running the backcountry mule packing program. He also worked at Pu’u Kukui Watershed Preserve and the Plant Extinction Prevention Program as a field technician performing fence construction, invasive species control, and rare species monitoring and outplanting. He is currently the facility manager at Kalaupapa National Historical Park where he leads a team caring for the roads, utilities, and historic structures of the former Hansen’s Disease settlement. In his off hours, Matt is an avid surfer, hiker, woodworker, and native plant enthusiast.

2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Makayla Richmond

Makayla Richmond is passionate about stewarding natural resources in Hawaii. With a strong academic foundation in Sustainable Science with a marine focus, she has immersed herself in the world of ocean conservation through addressing land-based stressors. In her current role as Senior Program Coordinator at the Coral Reef Alliance, Makayla leverages experience from mauka at Pu’u Kukui Watershed Preserve to makai as a marine environmental consultant. Additionally, Makayla has served as a sustainability consultant, but she has primarily worked with various NGOs and sits on the board of directors as Secretary at Kipuka Olowalu Cultural Reserve, where their mission is to cultivate cultural and environmental connectivity for all. She brings with her a holistic perspective to marine management. Makayla believes that a culturally based and community-led approach is essential to the success of conservation efforts in Hawaii.

2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Bailey Spry

Bailey was born and raised in Michigan, on the traditional lands of the Potawatomi and Ottawa. Early life in the Great Lakes Region gave Bailey a deep appreciation for backpacking, hunting, gathering, bird-watching, and all things outdoors. Since high school graduation in 2013 and relocating to Maui in 2015, Bailey has worked on permaculture and aquaculture farms in Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Turkey, India, and Hawai‘i Island. During the pandemic, Bailey completed a year-long doula training through Pacific Birth Collective. In 2022, she completed a bachelor of science in botany at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa as a recipient of the Dr. Isabella Kauakea Aiona Abbott Scholarship. Bailey is a limu enthusiast and frequently partners with Nā Mamo O Mūʻolea to survey East Maui limu populations and educate Hāna youth on the importance of thriving coastal species. In August 2022, Bailey joined East Maui non-profit Ma Ka Hana Ka ʻIke as Grants Manager.

2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Jill Wirt

Jill is a passionate marine resource management professional, holding a master’s degree in environmental science and management from the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, complemented by a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Sciences from San Diego State University.

During her master’s program, Jill excelled as a Communication & Programs Assistant for Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. She orchestrated the successful placement of “Protect Maui’s Coral Reefs” signs at 39 shoreline locations in collaboration with resort properties. Jill’s passion for marine conservation also allowed her to work as a naturalist with organizations such as Pacific Whale Foundation and The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.

Currently, Jill spearheads the “Reef Friendly Landscaping” initiative at Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, advocating for the shift away from harmful synthetic chemicals impacting Maui’s coral reefs and marine ecosystems. Her program certifies businesses in sustainable land care practices while developing an online Maui-based curriculum for landscaping professionals. She also manages the council’s coral restoration efforts in partnership with Kuleana Coral Restoration.

Beyond her professional roles, Jill actively contributes to the Surfrider Maui Chapter as Secretary and dedicates her time to coaching Seabury’s Junior Varsity Girls Volleyball team.

2024 Ka Ipu Kukui Fellow

Dav Yuan

Dav has dedicated his career to understanding how to best share knowledge between children, adults, and everyone in between. Since 2014 he has been at the helm of The Maui Digital Bus. The Digital Bus program, now recently a part of the Maui Economic Development Board, operates mobile science and culture classrooms offering free experiential education projects to underrepresented students of Maui Nui. 

Dav was born in Maryland and raised in Belgium within a multicultural family. A biologist by training, he completed his undergraduate degree at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and his M.S. at Clemson University, focusing on animal behavior. During his journey as a biologist, Dav found his passion was more in sharing information rather than collecting information. He first entered the workforce as a rock-climbing guide, then trading cliffs for classrooms. He started his career in education as a high school science teacher. Dav made his way to Maui in 2010 and has been a guest on Hawaiian lands ever since, trying his best to ensure students have the skills they need to face an ever-changing world.

When not exchanging knowledge with Maui’s youth, Dav is usually found camera in hand, taking pictures of his one-year-old son, his wife, and random things that may not make much sense. He loves making and eating good foods, exploring new places, and anything that takes place outside.

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Ka Ipu Kukui Fellows

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Ka Ipu Kukui Fellows
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