UH Hilo business major Pelenatete Leilua wants to help businesses in Sāmoa guide social change

Passion to help others is the driving force behind Pelenatete Leilua’s studies and future plans.

By Lara Hughes.

Pelenatete Leilua standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.
Pelenatete Leilua gives the shaka while visiting the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C., during her summer internship in the city. Courtesy photo, click to enlarge.
Pelenatete Kate Leilua
Pelenatete Kate Leilua

Pelenatete Kate Leilua, a senior at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo majoring in business administration, believes that an education, and more specifically a degree, is the one thing no one can take away from you once you have it.

It was this idea—and remembering the sacrifices that her family back home in Apia, Sāmoa, made for her—that motivated Leilua to seek a higher education and keeps her focused while attending university.

Leilua is majoring in business administration with a concentration on marketing. “We are humans and I was fascinated on how drafting a message can influence people’s behavior,” she says about her choice of study. Successful marketing can be a very specific science, and she enjoys learning about methods of communication that are used to reach different people.


Leilua has been at UH Hilo for two years now and in that time has completed three internships with different companies.

The first was a finance internship back in her home of Sāmoa during the summer of 2014. This opportunity allowed her to witness the day-to-day inner workings of a corporate telecommunications company offering invaluable professional knowledge and skills.

Pele standing with graphic of the world hanging behind her.
During the summer of 2015, Leilua was an intern at the International Franchise Association in Washington D.C. Here she stands in the offices of the advocacy organization.

Her second internship was in the summer of 2015 with the International Franchise Association in Washington D.C. IFA uses government relations, public policy, media relations, and educational programs to advocate for more than 780,000 franchises nationwide. “It was a great experience to learn operations within a non-profit in the nation’s capitol,” she says.

For her final semester she is completing a third internship at UH Hilo. Her job entails creating awareness for UH Hilo students regarding the different types of transportation available on campus through marketing strategy. She is working closely with the university’s transportation committee.

Jim Mellon, director of UH Hilo’s international student services and intercultural education programs, is impressed with Leilua’s work on campus. “She is creating an ‘Uber’-esque transportation system on campus for students,” he says. “She also did a lot of marketing research last year that had an influence on the university allowing outside food vendors to open up on campus.”

Community outreach

Aside from keeping busy with internships, Leilua also volunteers as a mentor for high school students and donates five hours of her week to helping the elderly in the Hilo community with yard work and household chores.

It’s no wonder that her favorite course was Social Entrepreneurship (MGT 425), where students who took the class were given the opportunity to help a local social business. Leilua worked with The Makery, which is a craft and arts gallery employing disabled workers in downtown Hilo. The students found that the company didn’t have much online presence, so the students created online mediums to help promote the artwork.

“It’s a passion (of mine) to help provide opportunities for those less fortunate,” explains Leilua.

This passion to help others is the driving force behind Leilua’s future plans. She wants to help businesses in Sāmoa guide social change and use sustainable practices to create job opportunities for the less fortunate.

She has been offered a few permanent positions with the various companies that she has interned with during her college career, and has also applied to different companies back home in Sāmoa.

“The greatest challenge I had to overcome was to get here and complete my degree program,” says the ambitious senior about overcoming her personal challenges. “The hardest part is starting but the rest falls into place when you work hard and keep in mind why (you are) here.”

This story is part of a series by Lara Hughes featuring international students:






About the author of this story: Lara Hughes is a junior at UH Hilo majoring in business administration. She is a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor. 

-UH Hilo Stories