Ellison S. Onizuka (1946–1986) was a Japanese American aerospace engineer. The first Asian/Pacific Islander chosen by NASA for the astronaut program, Onizuka served as a mission specialist on the space shuttle Challenger, which exploded on Jan. 28, 1986, killing all aboard.

Onizuka credited Hawaii’s public schools for steering him toward a career as an astronaut, and he often visited those schools to encourage students to set goals and work hard to achieve them.

NEA presents the Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award to a nominee whose activities in Asian and Pacific Islander affairs significantly impact education and the achievement of equal opportunity for Asians and Pacific Islanders. To be eligible for this award, the nominee must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Increase the public’s understanding of and appreciation for the heritage of Asians and Pacific Islanders.
  • Develop and implement a bilingual, multicultural educational program that impacts a school system or a large portion of a community.
  • Lobby for legislation that positively affects Asians and Pacific Islanders.
  • Work actively with a community to improve opportunities for Asians and Pacific Islanders.
  • Help schools develop programs that enhance the educational opportunities of Asian and Pacific Islander children.

Awarded in even- and odd-numbered years.

2021 HCR Awards Honorees