Darienne Kealoha

Darienne Kealoha

Marine Science major transforms her life’s journey at UH Hilo

With a deep breath, the nerves in her voice started reverberating throughout the room, changing from quaking to quiet.

Darienne Kealoha recalls the moment she found her confidence – her hilinaʻi, during an ‘oli chant test at Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani. It was a turning point for her, a moment that defines her even now, as a senior student in Marine Science, minoring in Communications, Hawaiian Studies, and History.

When she finished her ‘oli, there was complete silence. Instructor Malu Dudoit said, “That was amazing. Your voice is strong, you filled the whole room.”

Kealoha wasn’t always as confident as she is now. The eldest of four in a single-parent household, she struggled with depression in her high school sophomore year, affecting both her academic and personal life.

Although she came from a large family of Hawaiian ancestry, and attended Kamehameha Schools in Kapālama, she never felt truly connected to the ʻāina and her native culture. College wasn’t part of the story she had written for herself, and it was only as part of a graduation requirement and the behest of her family, that she applied to UH Hilo at all.

Attending UH Hilo transformed her perspective on life. A proud participant of the Summer 2019 Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Science (PIPES), Kealoha partnered with Kelsea Hosoda of the educational consulting business ‘Ike Papalua, helping to produce animated educational videos on Instagram and YouTube that talked about genetic modification.

Being involved with the PIPES internship program taught her about research, and how important it is to be a part of the community, talking to the people who live in the area, and discovering things you never would otherwise.

Kealoha always had a creative interest in video. Her focus is on producing educational videos on marine science incorporating ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i for immersive learning in charter schools. In years past, she’s been involved as editor at Vulcan Video Productions (VVP) on campus, and this past year, she was general manager for VVP.

Her eventual goal is to become an Education Coordinator specializing in indigenized educational activities that kids can do at home. “By combining the necessity of working with my community and my passion for education through video media, I want to serve the Hawaiian community in this way,” says Kealoha.

UH Hilo helped Kealoha connect her identity to her ancestral roots. “Hilo has a Hawaiian mentality, it’s not about blood, but about home, and a way of life,” she says. At one point while growing up on O‘ahu, all she knew of Hawaiian culture was listening to Hawaiian music. Living in Hilo, she came to understand how important ʻāina and community are.

Kealoha’s journey hasn’t always been easy, even now. She relies on the support of her family and friends, and her black cat Mahina, who resides with her at the dorms. But she reminds herself of one thing and shares this advice with others: “Don’t be scared of failing – try to be as involved as possible. Everyone is dealing with something or is just as scared. Once you get over that fear, the entire world opens up for you.”