Around Campus: Dr. Erickson & Bear

Lucy Fagan and Lauren Vierra

Dr. Erickson is a new face among Kalani High School’s teaching staff this school year. With a furry friend, he catches the eyes of many students. But his dog, Bear, isnʻt the only unique thing about him.

Christopher “Topher” Erickson is a social studies teacher who teaches Civics, Modern Hawaiian History, and U.S. History. Aside from being a teacher at Kalani, Dr. Erickson is also an Anthropology professor at Hawaii Pacific University. 

“So far so good,” Dr. Erickson reported about his first three quarters at Kalani. “It’s really hard work. I’ve never done high school teaching. I’ve taught college for 15 years, but not high school so it’s really new terrain for me and it’s a lot more structured.” 

Dr. Erickson gave his experience a nine out of ten so far and has specifically loved working with the students. 

“I think relationship building is always the best part about anything that we do,” Dr. Erickson remarked. “We are our relationships, so when I feel like I’ve made a connection with a student it’s not gonna be because you remember that awesome content about Civics, you know? It’s gonna be that we laughed or joked or had some moment that was meaningful.” 

Dr. Christopher “Topher” Erickson poses with his constant-companion, Bear, by his side. Erickson brings experience and energy to the Social Studies department at Kalani High School this year. Before he was a teacher, Erickson was a truck driver, a garbage man, a Segway tour guide, and played music professionally in Waikiki. Bear, his medical service dog, is also a big hit with students. Photo by Zohar McMillan-Zilberman.

He spent ten years helping homeless youth as a social worker on the streets of Minneapolis but said he eventually “burned out” and decided to move on from that to follow his true passion: anthropology. 

At 30, after attending Hamline University in Minneapolis, Dr. Erickson ended up going to American University in Washington DC for his doctorate in anthropology. Before graduating at 40, he followed a girl to Hawaiʻi, changing his dissertation and refocused his academic interests on the Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement and Hawaiian history. 

“I didn’t know the history so it was really exciting for me,” Dr. Erickson explained. “As a man from Minnesota, I knew nothing so it was really alarming.”

On Oahu, Dr. Erickson tried his hand at an array of unique jobs, such as working as a segway tour guide and performing music in Waikiki.

He ended up at Kalani after working with the Hawaii Teachers Standard Board. He said he didn’t like the job but he liked the benefits of working for the government. This led him to look into a career in public school education and he received a response from Principle Otani after emailing many Honolulu schools. He has now been on Oahu for 15 years.

Among the long list of jobs he has held over the years, including garbage man, truck driver, and social worker, he also once dreamed of being a rock star. These unique adventures gave Dr. Erickson a sense of empathy for others and helped him gain hands-on experience in the real world. 

With him for the journey was his ever-faithful dog, Bear. If you’ve seen a large fluffy friend around campus, chances are itʻs Bear. Dr. Erickson has had him for 12 years and Bear assists in ensuring Dr. Erickson has safe insulin levels throughout the day. 

“Some students love him,” Dr. Erickson shared about his companion. “They have an open invitation to interact with him.”