Koleyna Kohler, or Koli, is a senior graduating in December studying French and sociology. She is also an ACE Mentor with the First Year Programs.

From the moment I stepped foot on the beautiful University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa campus, I realized college would be what I made of it. Thankfully, UH offers plenty of classes to explore, clubs to join and leadership opportunities. On the weekends, the tailgates and costume parties complete the college package. Together, these experiences helped me find out what I want to be.

Throughout high school, I was set on a nursing career. I planned to complete all my classes and go straight to a competitive nursing school. But that plan changed after I studied abroad sophomore year in Australia. Free from pre-nursing classes for the first time, I realized a one-track degree was not for me.

When I returned to Hawai‘i, I declared a French major with a sociology minor. The choice raised a few eyebrows – some of my friends and family wondered why I would choose Hawai‘i to learn a foreign language. But I loved it. Learning a new language opened my eyes and ears to so many opportunities around me and exposed me to beautiful cultures and people. As I felt myself growing in school and as a person, I began to understand the power of education.

So when I started to think about what I would do after graduation, impacting education was at the top of my mind. As the daughter of a teacher and a social worker, I know that access to opportunity in education is deeply unequal in this country. This is not surprising when we recognize that the problems in our schools didn’t start there. Rather, they reflect deep, systemic, overlapping injustices – everything from healthcare to employment to housing. Each inequity makes the next one worse.

When we choose to teach, we choose to disrupt this cycle. Outside of my studies and part-time job as a bartender, I volunteer at Kaimuki High School as a student-teacher and serve as an ACE Mentor for incoming freshmen at UH Mānoa. Whether I’m helping high school freshmen grasp their social studies concepts more deeply or working with Mānoa freshmen to ease their transition to college, I am happiest, most challenged, and most fulfilled when I am teaching and serving others.

My deep belief in education as an equalizer, coupled with the conviction that I can be a part of enacting positive change, led me to Teach For America and the career I’ll begin in education this fall. Everything about it makes me anxious. Will I be good enough for my kids? Will I feel at home at my new city? But I’m sustained by what I know. Education isn’t serving all kids in this country. We’ve got to change this – and fast.

When we come together to help kids change the way they think about their own abilities and futures, we create classrooms full of students who are dreaming big. When we equip them with the skills and tools to thrive in and out of the classroom, we cultivate boundless potential – the future scientists, politicians, writers, artists, doctors, attorneys who shape the world we are going to share. It won’t happen overnight. It will take sustained, thoughtful effort. But if we seize the opportunities education has afforded us and use them to empower the next generation, we can make it happen.

I can’t wait for school to start.