Kara Nelson receives first Matthew Somchai Therrien Memorial Award

Nelson is the first recipient of the recently established $500 annual award that recognizes an outstanding UH Hilo student majoring in English.

Kara Nelson
Kara Nelson

Kara Nelson, a senior with a double major in English and communication at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, is the recipient of the Matthew Somchai Therrien Memorial Award. Nelson is the first recipient of the recently established $500 annual award that recognizes an outstanding UH Hilo student majoring in English.

Matthew Somchai Therrien was an aspiring English major at UH Hilo at the time of his death in April 2014. He was a gifted poet and writer with a dream of becoming an English professor. The Matthew Somchai Therrien Memorial Award was initiated by a generous donation made by Stephen and Gloria Gainsley, longtime friends of the Therrien family.

“I am honored that I have received an award in honor of my late classmate,” says Nelson. “Matt had incredible energy, passion, and a good heart, and since he was just an acquaintance, I realized too late the ways he enriched my academic and personal life. His loss was a wake-up call during a difficult time in my life, and his memory inspired me to move onward and also to connect more with others to form friendships while I can and to be myself. For that I’ll forever be thankful.”

Since Dec. 2014, Nelson has been an intern in the Office of the Chancellor, writing for this websiteUH Hilo Stories. In addition, she has been the Hawai‘i Island correspondent for Hawai‘i Pacific University’s student paper Kalamalama since 2010 and has written for the Fastweb Student Soundoff team for 2013-2014.

“By writing non-fiction, I hope to encourage people to be adventurous, inspire them to change their lives, or give them hope,” she says.

Her past publishing credits include news and opinion pieces for Hawaii 24/7, the Hawaii Catholic Herald, Catholic News Agency, and UH Hilo’s student paper, Ke Kalahea. Her poetry has been published in Phi Theta Kappa Society’s 2013 Nota Bene anthology, Kanilehua, Love’s Chance Magazine, and the Hawaii Catholic Herald.

Nelson recently won a $250 Droste award, for Outstanding Work in Fiction, for her short story, “Far from the Madding Major.” The awards are made possible by a bequest by the estate of the late Howard and Yoneko Droste, longtime faculty members who taught a combined total of 45 years at UH Hilo.

“While my first love, creative writing, is competitive and even frustrating, through revision I hope to someday, like my favorite authors, impart beautiful, memorable words the same way other authors have done for me,” she says. “Inspired by my deepest feelings or crazy ideas, I try to connect with readers by portraying life’s pains, follies, and joys, from the pain of loss to the simple beauty of holding hands, from poking fun at school to creating a lovable character.”

Nelson is graduating in two weeks with a bachelor of arts in English, a bachelor of arts in communication, and a 4.0 grade point average. She transferred to UH Hilo in spring 2013 after graduating from UH Center-West Hawai‘i with a 4.0 GPA and an associate’s degree.

-Adapted from a media release

This story was revised on May 6 to add quotations from the award recipient.