Justin Brown - PAAC Advisor and STEM Academy Teacher

Justin Brown

PAAC Advisor and STEM Academy Teacher

Kealakehe High School


Justin Brown has worked with Pacific & Asian Affairs Council (PAAC) students since 2009, currently mentoring up to 20 students a year in a rigorous advanced global citizenship program at Kealakehe High School in Kailua-Kona. As an award-winning Career and Technical Education coordinator and global affairs/robotics/engineering teacher, Justin serves as an advisor to numerous student organizations and frequently travels nationally and internationally, including on a PAAC Study Tour to Japan. Originally from Arlington, Texas, Justin earned bachelor’s degrees in political science, psychology and music from Texas Christian University. 


What do your PAAC classes look like?

Our 18 PAAC students meet after school each week. Many are students who have had siblings in the program and who are also involved in my other classes. Most of our students who start as freshmen are involved in PAAC programs all four years. In addition to the PAAC class and club activities, our students also participate in the PAAC Global Vision Summits, WorldQuest competition, and Study Tour programs. 


Tell us about what your PAAC students are working on this year.

We are recently back from a trip to New York City, where we toured the United Nations headquarters and learned about civic engagement, public policy, diplomacy and parliamentary procedures. 


One of the big things we’ve been looking at is how we consume information. Such as: What bias is present? Where is it being acknowledged? We will take on a current topic and follow it for a semester. For example, what’s happening in Russia and Ukraine, or global health during the pandemic. We want students to be healthy interrogators of news. 


We also participate in the International Public Policy Forum (IPPF) annual contest, where our students often place in the top submissions. They kick off the academic year by putting together policy papers, which allows them to refine their writing and research skills. 


What do you hope your students take away from the experience?

I help them develop an understanding for problems where the dynamics are changing, so they can see how entrenched some issues can be. We distill issues and look at the ways we can be visionary and revolutionary in our thinking. I encourage students to use both the telescope (gaze) and the microscope (focus). We can have big, grand visions, but we can’t be so obsessed with the perfect solution that we don’t see through that to real progress.


Your first PAAC students are now in their late 20s. Where have they started their careers?

We have alumni visit with the students – these are kids from Kona who expanded their gaze and their focus and have stretched in both directions to keep their balance. There are students who have gone on to big-name universities, earned fellowships, and conducted research. We also have many students doing great work here at home, such as policy advocacy at the state level. I remind my students that careers don’t go in straight lines. We can see these alumni now, and they are very impressive, but they had to go through that stage of vulnerable self-discovery and build from there. 


What do you enjoy the most about your involvement with PAAC?

I’ve been able to introduce interesting social theorists and thinkers to these students – such as Hobbes and Locke – and show that the human condition has been wrestling with these complex issues for a long time. Students become curious consumers of the humanities in ways that lead to a pragmatic mind. The better we understand a problem, the more effective we will be at doing something about it. Now our students have an initial exposure to an issue that may be trending, and they are thinking through it and developing solutions around it.


Ready to get involved or have a great alumni story or teacher profile to share? Contact us at info@paachawaii.org.