Our Team

Keliʻi Akina, Ph.D.

Keli’i Akina, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, is a recognized scholar, public policy spokesman and community leader in Hawaii. In 2016, Akina was elected to statewide public office as trustee-at-large for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs. He is an expert in East-West philosophy and ethics, has taught at universities in China and the United States, including Hawaii Pacific University. He holds advanced degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Hawaii.

Joe Kent
Executive vice president

Joe Kent grew up on the Big Island and attended the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Minnesota State University, where he obtained his degree in education. Kent was a public school teacher for eight years, at King Kamehameha III School in Lahaina, Maui, and Sleepy Eye Public School in Minnesota. He also is a former student fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education.

Malia Blom Hill
Director of policy

Malia Hill comes to the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii with a background in law, politics and communications. She completed her undergraduate studies at Mount Saint Mary’s University and obtained her J.D. from the Catholic University of America. After working in Hawaii politics at the state level, including a brief period with the Office of Rep. Mark Moses, she went on to work for several advocacy groups based in Washington, D.C., where she currently resides. As policy director for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, she works on both national and state issues affecting the future of Hawaii.

Sean Mitsui
Director of development

Sean Mitsui is a graduate from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a major in finance and minor in political science. He was born and raised in Hawaii, but also has lived in Japan and California. Mitsui worked at a local insurance company before joining the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. During his spare time, he is an avid runner who participates every year in the Honolulu Marathon. He also enjoys reading books about history and economics.

Christie Adams
Community relations manager

Christie Adams is a lifelong Oahu resident whose family has lived in Hawaii for eight generations. She is a Roosevelt High School graduate and earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Stanford University. She has worked in marketing, public relations, advertising and sales for 30 years. She also is a world traveler who has visited almost 40 countries. In her spare time, she enjoys playing music on the accordion and handcrafting women’s jewelry, utilizing gemstones from around the world.

Mark Coleman
Communications director, managing editor, writer

Mark Coleman is a veteran journalist who spent almost three decades with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, a decade with Honolulu-based Pacific Business News, and two years with the Pacific Daily News on Guam. He has communication degrees from Florida State University and the University of Hawaii, was a Herbert J. Davenport Fellow in Business and Economic Reporting at the University of Missouri, reported from Japan as part of an International Press Institute journalist exchange program, and is a former Hawaii chapter president of the Society of Professional Journalists. He also has been published widely as a freelance writer.

Joshua Mason
Director of marketing

Joshua Mason holds an MBA from the Acton School of Business and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and music from BYU-Hawaii, where he also served as managing editor of  Ke Alaka’i, one of the nation’s top-ranked college publications. Upon graduationhe joined the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, for which he served as director of communications until leaving Hawaii in 2019 to earn his MBA. Currently living in Austin, Texas, Mason is fluent in Spanish and enjoys listening to nonfiction books and journaling. When he’s not focused on marketing efforts for the institute, he runs a marketing consultation business aimed at helping small organizations improve their digital footprints.

David Swann
Cartoonist, illustrator

David Swann is a graduate of the University of Alabama with a degree in history. He was born and raised in Huntsville, Ala., and is a U.S. Air Force veteran. He was an editorial cartoonist for the Huntsville Times in northern Alabama for nine years before settling in Hawaii in 1994. He worked as a graphic artist for the Honolulu Advertiser until 1997, then switched to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin for 19 years, as both papers merged to become the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. He has won numerous local and national awards for graphics, cartoons and illustrations.

Jonathan Helton
Research associate

Jonathan Helton was born and raised in Tennessee. He currently attends Freed-Hardeman University, in Henderson, Tenn., where he is majoring in law and politics with a minor in business. During high school, he was part of a competitive speech and debate club and competed on the state and national level, which sparked his passion for policy research. During his senior year of high school, he interned at the Tennessee Eagle Forum and the Kennedy Law Firm PLLC, where he helped write a forthcoming book on Christianity and the law. Since enrolling at Freed-Hardeman, he has worked as a research assistant for John E Talbott & Associates PLLC. His research focuses primarily on the Jones Act.

Melissa Newsham
Research associate

Melissa Newsham is a student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where she is studying political science and economics. She was born and raised in Tokyo and moved to Hawaii at the age of 9. She graduated from Punahou School, where she was the editor of the school newspaper. Her columns have appeared in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Honolulu Civil Beat and The Western Journal.

Jackson Grubbe
Research associate

Jackson Makanikeoe Grubbe graduated from BYU-Hawaii in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in English and legal studies certificate. After graduation he worked as a policy and communications specialist on a local gubernatorial campaign. Since then he has worked in compliance for a student housing company. Starting in the fall of 2020, he will be attending the University of Virginia Law School on a Karsh-Dillard Scholarship, which is the school’s top scholarship for students who demonstrate extraordinary leadership. His research focuses primarily on land use and housing.

Aaron Lief
Policy analyst

Aaron Lief was born on Kauai and raised on Oahu. He spent four years as a geospatial intelligence analyst in the U.S. Air Force, with the 6th Intelligence Squadron in South Korea and 11th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron in Florida. Aaron joined the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii as a researcher and writer while attending Hawaii Pacific University, from which he graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. His work for the Grassroot Institute has focused mostly on medical regulation, privatization, land use and housing.