UH Hilo Women’s Mentoring Program offers support and inspiration

Student Tiana Wai describes mentoring as a meaningful opportunity for self-development and personal growth for both mentor and student.

Tiana Wai
Tiana Wai

Tiana Wai arrived at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo with an associate’s degree in business management. For the Oahu-born student who grew up in the village of Nu‘uuli in Pago Pago, American Sāmoa, it was not the easiest of transitions. A first-generation college student, Wai had difficulty adjusting to her new life at UH Hilo.

“I had no help in understanding the system, (how) to break through the barrier and adapt to a new academic culture,” she says. “It took me a while, but I liked the challenge and it only made me stronger.”

One of the support systems Wai found was through the annual internship fair sponsored by UH Hilo Office of Applied Learning Experiences, commonly called ALEX. She made connections at the fair that led to an internship at the UH Hilo Women’s Center, which evolved into becoming a staff member of the center’s Women’s Mentoring Program.

The mentoring program is a collaborative project of the American Association of University Women, ZONTA Hilo Branch, the YWCA, and UH Hilo’s Women’s Center.*

Mentors are required to meet with their students for a minimum of two times each semester. Support can range from being a friend, to giving advice, to recommending employment or scholarships. Students come away knowing they can balance their lives while working toward and achieving graduation.

The benefits for mentors and mentees are, in Wai’s words, “limitless.” She says there are innumerable advantages from the program that normal classroom settings may not deliver. She says mentors can help guide students in the right direction, especially as a professional reference. “It’s like hidden knowledge,” she says.

As for the mentors themselves?

“They love mentoring,” says Hannah Wu, director of the UH Hilo Women’s Center. “It’s the whole altruistic nature of wanting to help and (make) a difference in someone’s life. It just makes you happy.”

Wai describes mentoring and being mentored as a meaningful opportunity for self-development and personal growth. She herself serves as a living inspiration for other students. In addition to now serving as office manager at the Women’s Center, she also enjoys working the center’s social media outlets. She will graduate in December with a bachelor of arts in communication and a certificate in business administration.

“What’s important for women in the mentoring program is we need that form of support to make our own choices,” says Wai. “Being a mentor is important because everything you say to someone, even a simple ‘good job,’ can impact them in the future. You remember that one moment when someone looked at you and told you, ‘You can do this.’”

The UH Hilo Women’s Mentoring Program is currently run by Sarah Haas. For information about the Women’s Center or the Women’s Mentoring Program, contact Haas at (808) 932-7381 or uhhwomen@hawaii.edu.

Karl Hennen contributed to this story.

*Editor’s note 9/29/2014: There will be a Women’s Speed Mentoring Day on October 2, 2014 from 5:00-6:30 p.m. at UH Hilo’s University Classroom Building, Room 127. The Women’s Speed Mentoring event is an opportunity to connect with professional and successful women from the local community. The event provides a unique opportunity for female students to advance the status of women and girls worldwide and to gain professional development and guidance under a mentor from the Hilo community. Applications have closed for this event, but students can contact the Women’s Center to sign up for next year’s event or to be put on the waiting list for this year.