Obama Foundation chooses Hawaiʻi Island science teacher for cohort of 100 emerging leaders

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Whitney Aragaki

On Tuesday, Waiākea High School science teacher Whitney Aragaki was selected for the first cohort of 100 emerging changemakers in the Obama Foundation’s Leaders USA program.

The six-month virtual Obama Leaders program supports and connects emerging leaders in the United States, Africa, Asia-Pacific and Europe through a values-based leadership framework inspired by the ideals and legacy of Barak and Michelle Obama.

Chosen from a highly competitive pool of applications, Aragaki was selected to join the program for her innovative cultural and place-based approach to teaching, and is ready to build her skills and expand her impact across public, private and nonprofit sectors.

“We are so proud to see Whitney’s leadership recognized and valued on a national scale given her track record of inspiring her students and peers alike and driving positive change in our communities,” Hawai‘i State Department of Education Superintendent Keith Hayashi said in a press release.

The inaugural cohort of United States “Obama Leaders” is composed of values-driven changemakers from every corner of the country. They come from 37 states, Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Guam and five tribal nations.


These Obama Leaders are united by their passion for building a stronger, more sustainable and more inclusive world.

“I am excited to be a part of this inaugural Obama Leaders USA cohort, especially as a classroom teacher,” Aragaki said. “I believe so deeply in the power of leadership from every seat — that teachers impact both the students they teach and the system we serve. I look to bring our stories and collective wisdom from Waiākea High and HIDOE to the group, and hope to learn about how place uniquely shaped each leader’s journey across the country.”

Aragaki has been teaching at Waiākea High for more than 10 years and currently teaches 10th grade biology and Advanced Placement Environmental Science. Her classroom activities are known to put students in touch with their local communities and are designed around learning through problem solving.


Beyond science, Aragaki’s educational activities offer students opportunities to elevate their leadership and civic responsibility within the community. A National Board Certified Teacher, Aragaki was recently recognized as the 2022 Hawai‘i State Teacher of the Year and one of four finalists for the 2022 National Teacher of the Year award. 

She was also a 2019 and 2021 state finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. 

“We are excited to welcome these 100 changemakers from across the United States into the Obama Foundation family,” said Valerie Jarrett, CEO of the Obama Foundation. “Our newest Obama Leaders are already making a difference in their communities and are ready to take their work to the next level. They embody the values of President and Mrs. Obama, and their impactful work will create positive change in communities across the country.”


The Leaders USA program offers participants a unique and comprehensive experience, including a values-driven leadership curriculum, action labs focused on strengthening democratic institutions and culture in the United States, community groups for fostering constructive dialogue in a polarized environment, and one-on-one support to help tackle some of the most pressing issues of our time.

As part of the six-month program, Aragaki will convene virtually each week with the United States Obama Leaders cohort for interactive sessions designed to help them drive change by honing their leadership skills, building deep relationships with their peers, and engaging with thought leaders and members of the Obama Foundation community.

Aragaki also will have an opportunity to engage with President Obama, participate in various virtual experiences and special events, including one-on-one conversations with experienced mentors in the foundation’s global network.

Two other Hawai‘i leaders were selected for the program: Ashley Mariko Johnson, founder of Mohala Eyewear, and Scott Nishimoto, executive director of Ceeds of Peace. To learn more about the program and the individuals who make up the inaugural cohort, visit

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