Toni Bissen

Toni Bissen
Ed.D. Student

What made you choose Marymount University for the pursuit of your Doctorate?

When I began to research leadership professional development opportunities for online doctorate programs I had 3 criteria: 

  • The University/Institution had to be Catholic;
  • There had to be a Social Justice focus or emphasis; and
  • For the EdD program - there had to be a broader/diverse focus that included organizational leadership suitable for professionals outside of education - for non-profit, government or business leaders 

Marymount University - it was perfect for me. It met the 3 criteria I was looking for. It felt like I found the needle in the haystack, or that I found my soulmate - like the perfect match. I honestly thought it was a Holy Spirit thing.


What do you hope to accomplish by earning an Ed.D. degree? What are your long-term professional and personal goals?

To be a better leader - a better executive director for my organization - for the board, for the staff, for the volunteers, for our partners, collaborators, and most importantly - for those that we serve. 

A long-term professional goal - by increasing my effectiveness as a leader, I would like to contribute to ending the overrepresentation of Native Hawaiian women in prison.


Tell us a bit about your background up to this point – personal and/or professional.

On the personal side - Ke welina mai nei (greetings) - I am Toni Grace Cecilia Kalinohulihei Bissen, the third child and only daughter of Johanna Kahililehua Lum, and Norbert Blase Bissen. The Lum Bissen family come from Maunalua, Oahu and Kahului, Maui. I’m a wife, and mother of 2 beautiful teenage daughters. I am a member of the Catholic Church, a lecturer at my home parish, and part of the Social Ministry program. I am a volunteer coordinator for prison projects under the Office for Social Ministry and for the Diocese of Honolulu. In addition, for over the past 15+ years I have engaged in the practice of hula, chant and dance, obtaining the rank of olapa (dancer) - see photo with myself and my Kumu Hula (hula teacher) Leina'ala Kalama Heine.

Toni Bissen

On the professional side - I am an attorney and administrator with 20 years of leadership experience working in the community non-profit sector. Currently, I serve as the Executive Director of the Pūʻā Foundation.  My professional focus is to address issues of trauma underlying the disproportionate representation of Native Hawaiian women in prison. To increase my effectiveness through leadership training and organizational development to serve justice involved women within the correctional system and community, as well as their families, is also a focus.


What motivates you to complete an online program?

I want to be better - so I can serve better. I love learning, thinking, problem-solving, and applying new knowledge. I also love to find better ways of doing things, and to be of service - strengthening and building my capacity as a leader will help in my professional context - so I can be a better executive director for my organization - for the board, for the staff, for the volunteers, for our partners, collaborators, and most importantly - for those that we serve. This is a lot of work - and the “FOR WHAT” - it is not about me, it's about WE - for the community, for the greater good type of thing - that's what motivates me.


What do you think of the Ed.D. program so far now that you have completed your first year (SP/SUM)?  Favorite topic or moment?

I love the program. I’m learning so much and applying what I learned in real time.


What is the biggest highlight of your experience with the MU Ed.D. program? Faculty? Something else?

Here are a couple of highlights - the technology and people. I am grateful for the technology that supports the experience. B, being from Hawaii I get to be in a cohort and connected to classmates from places like Texas, Colorado, New York, California, Louisiana, and of course the DMV area. It is a great experience learning with and from a talented group of dedicated people as we share this educational journey together. Another highlight is the support and encouragement that we receive from the faculty.


Anything else that you’d like to share?

I feel truly blessed to be a part of the EdD program at Marymount University - it is an honor and a privilege.


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