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.”

Ariel Moniz

Ariel Moniz

Ariel Moniz, English Alumna

Degrees: AA in Liberal Arts (HCC), BA in English, with a minor in History (UH Hilo)
Graduation Semester/Year: Summer 2016
High School: Connections Public Charter School
Hometown/State: Maui, Hawai‘i (or Kalapana, Big Island)
Job Title: Freelance Writer, Editor, and Blogger
Employer: N/A

What was your path to UH Hilo?
I attended Connections Public Charter School for my high school career, where I  was able to apply to take several courses at Hawaii Community College through the Gear Up Program. This was a great opportunity for me to get an idea of what life in college would be like, and allowed me to earn college credits before I officially entered college in the Fall of 2011. I always knew that I wanted to attend university, so I went straight from high school to Hawaii Community College, where I earned my Associates Degree in Liberal Arts before transferring to the University of Hawaii at Hilo to pursue my Bachelor’s degree.

Why did you choose to attend UH Hilo?
I chose to attend UH Hilo because they had an English program that appealed to me and because it allowed me to stay near my family, which was very important to me at the time. I’m thankful that I was able to complete my dream of earning a degree while remaining in my home community.

What were your favorite things about UH Hilo?
The opportunity to connect with others who shared my love of learning and literature was a great gift for me, not only through the English classes themselves but also through extracurricular opportunities like the English Club, the Board of Student Publications (BOSP), and the tutoring centers.

What are some extracurricular activities or clubs that you were a part of while attending UH Hilo?
I wanted to be a part of everything English or literature related while I was in university. This led to me working as an English tutor for The Learning Center through Hawaii Community College, and as an English tutor for the Kupa ʻĀina Summer Bridge Program in the summer of 2017, the year after I graduated.

While attending UH Hilo I also served as a literary editor for Kanilehua, which is UH Hilo’s art and literary magazine. The following year I was honored to become Kanilehua’s Editor-In-Chief.

These experiences allowed me to use my writing skills and my interest in the English language in ways that helped others and which gave me the opportunity to prepare myself for my future professional goals.

My love for English and the community committed to it at UH Hilo also motivated me to help spearhead the English club during my time at university. Many of my fondest memories were shared with others who also benefitted from these extracurricular activities.

What were your experiences with the UH Hilo faculty like?
Some of the highlights of my time at UH Hilo were the interactions that I had with the staff of the English Department. Kirsten Mollegaard, Seri Luangphinith, and Mark Panek had a large influence on my writing and how I perceived writing as a craft. They encouraged me to hone my writing skills, challenged me to expand my literary horizons, and they all made me feel like a valued member of the UH Hilo community.

What was the best thing about your time at UH Hilo?
One of the best things about my time at UH Hilo was entering the English degree, which allowed me to meet so many people who shared in my goals and life dreams. I had never been surrounded by so many people passionate about literature and the written word before my time in university. It was the English program that helped me create a community for myself, and nearly all of my closest friends to this day are people who I bonded over literature with in an English class.

How did your time at UH Hilo benefit you?
UH Hilo benefitted me in many ways, both in my personal and professional life. Besides its valuable role in helping me improve my writing and expand my social circle in a meaningful way, my time at UH Hilo also expanded my horizons and helped me discover new passions and goals that I had not thought feasible previously. The most influential of these I discovered in my last semester of my time at UH Hilo, when I was a part of a study abroad program through Hawaii Community College which took place in Ireland. This was my first time traveling outside of the country, and it was through this that I realized how much more of the world there was out there to see. I have been traveling regularly ever since, and I have now been to eleven countries and hope to visit many more.

Do you have any advice for current or future UH Hilo students?
I feel like the best advice I could give to anyone entering or currently attending university is to enjoy your time as a student. Be passionate about your studies, but also embrace and make time for friendships and meeting with like-minded people, pursue moments of personal happiness, and truly care for yourself and pay attention to your needs. Your grades and your future are important, but so is this moment and these memories that you are creating.

What has life been like for you since graduating?
Since attending UH Hilo my life has gone in a much different direction than what I expected when I was first began attending university. After discovering a love for travel I made it a priority to see more of the world. By working at two bookstores in Hilo for a year and a half I was able to save up enough money to travel through Europe, where I had many wonderful experiences and met some of the most amazing people, including the man who is now my husband. I now live in Germany— still traveling when I can, blogging, editing, writing, and currently attending a German integration course which will allow me to speak a second language and hopefully enter the field of translation in the near future.

What is your personal motto
My personal motto is to try your best in all that you do, especially in the pursuit of your passions.  Regardless of the outcome, when you try your best you are investing in your best self.

Who are you most influenced by in your life?
I am most influenced by those for whom I have great respect. This includes great figures whose footsteps I hope to follow in, such as the writers Maya Angelou, Neil Gaiman, and Ray Bradbury, as well as those closer to my heart but no less impressive, such as my grandparents who instilled in me the values of hard work and kindness, and many of the teachers who made school and later university such a refuge for me through their dedication and passion for education.

What are your greatest accomplishments? What are you most proud of?
I was honored to be awarded the Matthew Therrien Award and to win the Droste Poetry Competition during my time at UH Hilo. I am also thankful that I was published in the Kanilehua Art & Literary magazine as well as the Hohonu Academic Journal. These publications gave me the confidence in my writing which allowed me to pursue and achieve other publications later. All of these accomplishments made me feel like a valued member of the UH Hilo community and also instilled in me the belief that the goals I was reaching towards were in fact possible. This is why I consider them some of my greatest accomplishments.

What are your passions?
I have always been happiest while I am writing, reading, spending time in nature, or studying one of the things I’m fascinated by, which include ancient history, anthropology, many branches of psychology, the occult and other esoteric studies, and of course, literature.

What causes do you care most about?
I am very passionate about social justice, nature conservation, and mental health awareness, and I like my writing to be reflective of that. Some of the causes that are particularly close to my heart include the protection of the rights of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community, women’s rights, body inclusivity, the LGBTQ+ community, and raising awareness about the struggles of mental illness.

How would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as someone who loves deeply, smiled often, and who created works that touched the hearts of people who needed it.

What are your dreams?
My dreams are always evolving, but remain the same at their core— writing, traveling, and helping others are the bones of the life that I want to live.

What does your future hold?
My current professional goals for the future involve entering the publishing industry—possibly through translation or other editing services— and one day publishing my own books as an author and poet. I am also interested in pursuing a Master’s degree in an English related field.

My personal hope is that I will travel extensively, see my writing in many more publications, and become an inspiration to those who need to be reminded that dreams are worth pursuing.