Nicol Russell

When people hear I was born and raised in a small, rural town in Hawai’i their first question is usually, “Why are you here,” or, “How did you end up here?” My response is always a little long-winded. I graduated with undergraduate degree from the University of Hawai’i and as often happens with young-and-in-love people, made a move to be with my “soulmate.” That adventure took me some five thousand miles away from the only place I had ever lived and introduced me to life on the Eastern Seaboard. After living out east for 2 years, I moved to the great state of Texas for a year, and returned to the east to finish my graduate degree. Fast forward four years and I was on vacation in Arizona, in the spring, when I decided to give desert living a try. I moved here three months later (in the throes of summer!) and really couldn’t wrap my brain around how hot it was. Hot like nothing I had ever experienced in my life.

I didn’t think I would make it here and contemplated the idea of abandoning my life plan. But, in a flash it seems), almost ten years have now passed. In that time, I’ve really made a life for myself out here in the southwest. I’ve had children who call this place home. I’ve made really good friends who have become like family. I’ve worked for two really amazing organizations, in positions that have challenged me to be the best leader I can be while supporting Arizona’s youngest citizens and their families as they traverse the education landscape. In Hawaiian we have an expression—“no ka oi,” which loosely translates to “the best.” We often use it to describe where we are from. In my case, I say, Waianae no ka oi! It’s a tribute to my hometown, and in honor of my family who for generations has called that place home. So, while Hawai’i fills the biggest space in my heart and is always home, Arizona has been good to me and I hope to be here a long time more.

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