Heather Kekahuna


Anthropology and history student Heather Kekahuna, shares her journey of discovering her Native Hawaiian culture and identity at UH Hilo

My name is Heather Leilani Kekahuna and I am from Southern California.  The reason why I chose to attend UH Hilo was to gain a sense of my culture and have the opportunity to appreciate learning from a small class size setting and a campus with low student ratios. What I find to be a huge plus is that faculty really take notice of their students. As time is precious, it’s nice to see faculty engage with their students after class or during office hours, making themselves available with an open door. 

I have learned that the more time I have with my professors and being able to address concerns about coursework and other questions, the more rewarding it is for me in terms of being a better student. The relationships that students have with their faculty are key to being successful in college. I find that UH Hilo can be very helpful for those that need more 1-on-1 attention with their instructors, especially since UH Hilo offers an awesome and relaxed chill atmosphere.  

The reason I chose to major in anthropology is my interest and passion for archaeology and preserving history. One day I hope to pursue a career not just in archaeology but also to teach history at the high school level. I feel it is important to study anthropology to learn about our history, ways to work with other cultures and learn to develop ways to be sustainable the ways my ancestors did. 

My advice to those who are planning to attend UH Hilo is to come with a sense of passion within their own journey. For me, I was born and raised on the mainland, and being of Native Hawaiian ancestry, I have had to learn, reach out for support and take at least one Hawaiian Studies class each semester. I have had to immerse myself into a culture I have spent a lifetime identifying with. I highly advise those who have been away from their ancestral homeland and even those of non-Native Hawaiian ancestry to also immerse and educate themselves to gain a sense of community that not just surrounds UH Hilo, but the very ʻāina that the University of Hawai`i resides on.

As a Native Hawaiian, I take great pride in what my ancestors left behind: to preserve and sustain our culture for future generations. My experience with the faculty at UH Hilo has been a wonderful experience as I have been guided and supported on so many levels. I find that UH Hilo offers many amazing programs that support students from all walks of life. The programs and services I take advantage of are Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center, Student Support Services, LGBTQ+, Women’s Center and Disability Services. They have all assisted me in some way and I am extremely grateful to UH Hilo for this. I consider this learning outside of the classroom, which makes me better prepared and equipped for life after college. UH Hilo has definitely provided me with a foundation I know I wouldn’t get elsewhere.

Jennet Chang


Jennet Chang, Tropical Horticulture student from Samoa, talks about her journey – “Unity in Diversity”

Greetings and Talofa! My name is Jennet Chang and I am an islander from American Samoa; the only U.S. territory located in the Southern hemisphere, southwest of Hawai’i. My journey to the University of Hawai’i at Hilo was never as smooth as a walk in the park or water off a duck’s back. Like many college students, I struggled with the decision of choosing a  school whose vision and goals mirrored my dreams and ambitions. With guidance and suggestions from several mentors who are professors at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC), I selected UH Hilo. Choosing UH Hilo was no mistake for me because I felt right at home. Campus has a high percentage of diverse students with such different yet welcoming attitudes. The school campus also provided me with  various options to explore: clubs, majors, job opportunities, recreational activities and friends. Tips for incoming students: do research on the school first. Look at the statistics of students attending, check out the different programs that are offered, talk to alumni, check out the campus and the professors. You’d be surprised at what you’ll find out.

Before UH Hilo, my interest in agriculture peaked during my senior year of high school. As a senior  student, I had the opportunity to take part in a local program involving students to work study at certain local businesses. There, I worked on a hydroponic farm called “Hirata Hydrogarden”  where I had the opportunity to learn as many techniques and problem-solving experiences humanly possible. Fast-forward to applying to UH Hilo. I was drawn to the Tropical Science in Horticulture Specialty major and was privileged to be accepted into the program. I’ve been in UH Hilo since Fall 2017 majoring in horticulture and not once did I ever think of switching majors due to the amazing staff at the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources Management (CAFNRM) Department. The professors in the department are approachable, they care about their students academic journeys as well as their well beings and they encourage a feeling of camaraderie that I have never experienced before . In addition to that,  the CAFNRM students and I always enjoy talking stories with the professors, which range in topic from our embarrassing moments to a weekend activity.

My major provides countless hands-on activities on campus, especially at the UH Hilo Farm. To be honest, I feel like my classes involve more fun lab activities than lectures. I chose this major because I  am passionate about the need to help sustain our natural resources for future generations to come. If you really think about it, what’s there to eat if no one studies the sustainability of plants and animals affected by climate change? Aside from being a horticulture student, I’m also proud to be a representative for the Toa O Samoa and Pre-vet club. My experiences in those clubs have been fruitful and satisfying. Within those clubs I was fortunate to meet intellectual and fun students that made me feel like I belonged, and were also passionate about the same causes I hold dear to my heart. They are a source of continuous blessings to me that I would forever be thankful for. Therefore, the most important thing that I am excited to be a part of as a student at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, is “Unity in Diversity.”

Don’t be afraid to take the plunge: UH Hilo student experiences life-changing internship with the FBI

Haley Ancheta
Administration of Justice student Haley Ancheta holds a “challenge coin,” she received during her internship with the FBI Honolulu Division.

Haley Ancheta, Administration of Justice major, Political Science minor, Pre-Law Certificate

Haley Ancheta’s favorite experience during her ten-week internship with the FBI Honolulu Division, was being snatched into a moving, bulletproof SUV. The SWAT role-playing exercise placed her just out of reach for safety, requiring three men to come to her rescue while using the car as a shield.

Although the situation was just hypothetical, the lessons learned are not.

“The FBI has a big unseen impact on the community. Their undercover operations catch people like pedophiles, making sure they get addressed,” says Ancheta.

The Hilo High School graduate applied for the internship program on a whim after her Hawai‘i Community College advisor recommended she consider a career in the FBI. Ancheta always had ambitions to become a law enforcement officer, so she started doing some research online.

After a competitive process involving thousands of applications nationwide, Ancheta was selected to be one of 13 interns at the FBI Honolulu Division for summer 2019. She is the first student to enter the program from a neighbor island, as well as a UH System school.

“Most people think of the FBI as just special agents, but there’s actually a lot of opportunity for growth in different fields.”

Growing up next door to her role model and “second mom” – Captain Aimee Wana at the Hawai‘i Police Department, Ancheta was inspired to pursue a career in law enforcement.

“Law enforcement itself is so male-dominated and I want to help reform the system, not just for female equality, but also to advocate for fairer sentencing of offenders and better treatment of victims alike. We’re all humans…sometimes that gets forgotten.”

The FBI Honolulu Division internship doesn’t provide housing or food for non-O‘ahu residents, however it is paid depending on one’s educational background. Ancheta earned her internship through a variety of experiences, including shucking oysters as an FBI volunteer for the Ronald McDonald House Charities.

“The oysters weren’t fresh and were vacuum-sealed in bags that were sitting in a garage for over a year. I had to take a very long shower after that,” recalls Ancheta. “The pearls recovered from the oysters were sold in auction and the money was donated for charity.”

The bulk of her time however, was spent on two research projects, one involving researching domestic extremists targeting religious groups, and the other examining the effect of the Our Care, Our Choice Act on medical aid in dying.

Ancheta presented her findings on domestic extremists at an event in June in the Neil S. Blaisdell Center, informing religious groups of potential threats. She also was able to identify external trends affecting her research on medical aid in dying, including the legalization of marijuana for recreational and medicinal use.

Ancheta admits that all of this would not be possible if not for the encouragement of her teachers and advisors at UH Hilo, and her family and friends.

Coming from a divorced household living paycheck to paycheck, she was at one time considering dropping out of college. However, people like Holly Garriques, Kurt Dela Cruz and Keian Shon at UH Hilo’s Advising Office wouldn’t allow it, convincing her to stay the course.

When she was 16, Ancheta lost a close friend to an overdose. Her grief was extremely difficult to get through, but she managed with the support of her family and friends. She wears a tattoo to remind her to keep going – waves that rise and fall without breaking – nalu ʻaiō.

Ancheta will soon be starting another internship, this time with the Hawai‘i Police Department. Her advice to her fellow students? “Don’t be afraid to take the plunge, to reach out to others around you. Take chances and apply for opportunities that come your way – you never know where it may lead you.”