Spotlights

BUILDING BRIDGES TO THE FUTURE

Written By Gregory Fischbach

May 14, 2024
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  • HPU alumna Courtney Sugai graduated with a Master of Arts in Diplomacy and Military Studies degree

    HPU alumna Courtney Sugai graduated with a Master of Arts in Diplomacy and Military Studies degree.

  • Courtney Sugai with her husband, HPU alumnus Iven Sugai, and their three children

    Courtney Sugai with her husband, HPU alumnus Iven Sugai, and their three children.

When HPU alumna, Colonel Courtney Sugai ‘09 was enrolled in the Master of Arts in Diplomacy and Military Studies program she was an Army Captain who had just finished her fourth deployment overseas. Sugai attended five Army schools, focusing on professional development, before deciding that it was time to return home to Hawaiʻi. A native of Kauaʻi, Sugai graduated from Kauaʻi High School in Lihue, where her passion for service and learning was ignited.  

“It had been years since I had been home. I was homesick, but was offered an opportunity to earn my master’s degree through the Army Advanced Civil Schooling Program,” Sugai said. “I was also going to be a new mother, so balancing graduate school, active-duty service, and being a new parent were at the top of mind.” 

Sugai had discussed with her husband, HPU alumnus Iven Sugai ’01, the various options for graduate schools in Hawaiʻi and he strongly recommended his alma matter because of the dedicated faculty, excellence in education, and strong support system the University provides to its students.

Courtney Sugai with her husband and three children in Washington D.C.

Courtney Sugai with her husband and three children in Washington D.C..

“HPU always held a special place in my heart. When my husband and I were deployed to Iraq I was very impressed by their alumni association, and their incredible support for the ‘Adopt-A-School’ program in Iraq,” Sugai said. “HPU was all in and I was very impressed by how supportive they were to soldiers and the world. When the opportunity came to attend graduate school, HPU was the most impressive program out there. The location is also wonderful, and the Diplomacy and Military Studies program was ideal for my interests and background.”

Sugai has extensive military experience, having completed five operational deployments in her 23-year Army career. Among these was her most recent deployment was to Türkiye, where she served in a multinational NATO Command. Additionally, Sugai served two deployments each to Iraq and Afghanistan, with the first beginning shortly after the events of 9/11. 

“I planned to be a social studies teacher. As a freshman at UH Mānoa [University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa], I first enrolled in a course called military science and I really enjoyed it. I received an ROTC  scholarship, and my plans changed. I decided to join the Army. I wanted to serve my country, and I wanted to continue to lead and serve.” Sugai said. “After 9/11, I deployed to Afghanistan as a lieutenant. I went back to the region four more times and have continued my career in the Army because I felt that my job was not done.” 

Sugai met her husband during their time in the ROTC program at UH Mānoa. While Sugai herself was an ROTC student at UH Mānoa, her husband, Major Sugai, participated in the ROTC program at HPU through a partnership between the universities. After graduating with their undergraduate degrees, the Sugais, having met, fell in love, married, and embarked on their military careers together.

Courtney Sugai completed four deployments overseas and recently was deployed to Turkiye, serving in a multinational NATO Command

Courtney Sugai completed four deployments overseas and recently was deployed to Turkiye, serving in a multinational NATO Command.

“The difference between HPU and other universities in Hawaiʻi is the family spirit. HPU takes care of its students, and it really shows in everything they do. The administration, faculty, and staff care about their students and in accommodating the different schedules that students have. Whether it be online, at satellite locations on the military bases, HPU makes an incredible effort to help. I am always impressed by how they offer help in a variety of ways to ensure we are successful. When I was earning my master’s degree, it was important for me to graduate as soon as possible, to not wait around to take classes taught every other year. The Army had given me eighteen months to get a master’s degree, so I wanted to get in and finish. That is the real HPU difference.”

Sugai earned her master’s degree in Diplomacy and Military Studies in 2009. Most of her classes were conducted in-person, with a few taken online. HPU worked with her schedule as a new mom, active-duty personnel member, and full-time student to ensure that she would complete her degree on time, on her schedule. 

In 2013, Courtney and Iven Sugai, both Army Majors at the time, were awarded the Paul C.T. Loo Distinguished Alumni Award. They had just welcomed their third child.

“It’s important to have realistic goals that are achievable in life, whatever they may be,” Sugai said. “Set your goals, assess along the way, adjust if you need to. I felt like this was my recipe for success.”

Sugai lives full-time with her husband and children in Honolulu. She reflected on how special Hawaiʻi is and how grateful she is to be an American. “There are a lot of places that do not have what U.S. has, and I am so grateful for the life and opportunities that my family and I have.

“There are many things that inspire me, but as I get older, I have a greater appreciation for the sacrifices of my ancestors. My grandparents and parents served their communities and raised us to care for and help others, my brother is also a great person who I have always looked up to. The generation prior to mine made the world better and I feel it’s my kuleana to do the same for the next generation. This is my main goal. To be the best ancestor I can be, for my children, and for all who follow me.”

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