Recent UH Hilo poli-sci graduate Nellie Kati has a passion for humanitarian action

The scholar plans to return home to Papua New Guinea, with hopes of working for an international humanitarian organization to gain experience before going on to graduate school.

By Lara Hughes.

Nellie Kati
Nellie Kati

Recent graduate and international student at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Nellie Kati, from Papua New Guinea, says that the greatest challenge she has overcome is earning a full scholarship and completing her degree abroad. Her scholarship was awarded through the United States South Pacific Scholarship Program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered through the East-West Center.

Kati graduated last December with a bachelor of arts in political science and a certificate in international studies. Her favorite classes were on international conflict management and politics of the Pacific Rim. She says she loved the two courses because she learned about historic and current international affairs, topics that directly relate to the career she wishes to pursue in the near future.

While at UH Hilo, Kati participated in the Model UN Conference, held in New York in April 2015:

UH Hilo’s Model United Nations Team, Hui Na Lahui Huipu, turned in another strong performance at this year’s National Model United Nations conference in New York. UH Hilo earned Honorable Mention, a third place award presented to teams placing in the top fifteen percent.

The event attracts more than 5,000 students worldwide,who work in conference settings to propose resolutions on issues ranging from regional conflicts to economic and social development. This year, UH Hilo represented Greece during the five intense days of simulated UN deliberations.

This team was very different from the groups in previous years, as one of the two members competed for the first time and the other served as a staff member for the first time at the National Model United Nations conference, which makes their achievement all the more remarkable.

MP3 Report.


Kati also did two summer internships.

Her first internship was in 2014 with World Vision International, a humanitarian non-government organization based in developing countries. World Vision International helps to eliminate poverty and raise awareness regarding issues like child healthcare and education. Kati was involved in an ongoing project facilitated by the organization.

She says, “I was able to go with the team and reach out to abandoned children that lived in the streets begging for food, living under bridges and (in) squatter settlements who desired to learn or get a formal education, but have no means.”

Kati and her peers collected data and campaigned to raise awareness in both the public and private sectors and fund their efforts to educate children living with these circumstances.

Last summer Kati participated in an internship with the Osgood Center for International Studies, based in Washington D.C. She attended think-tank presentations covering international relations and the work of the international humanitarian organization including on the topics of women and violent extremism, a peaceful nuclear future, Afghan women leaders, the Trans Pacific Partnership, and women leadership of Africa.

Kati also attended congressional meetings in places such as Wilson Center, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Group photo of Nellie Kati and other interns.
Nellie Kati, seated at center, and cohort of nine college students from the Pacific Islands and Timor-Leste studying in Hawaiʻi on East-West Center-administered scholarships. The group spent six weeks last summer as interns at various agencies in Washington, DC; here they visit the Office of American Samoa Congresswoman Aumua Amata. More photos, courtesy East-West Center.

The future

Looking to the future, the new UH Hilo alumna plans to return home to Papua New Guinea. Kati hopes to work for an international humanitarian organization for a year or more to gain experience and explore her field before going back to school to further her studies.

“I am looking forward to going into grad school in the field of international relations, specifically international political economy,” she says. She wants to be a diplomat one day or work for the United Nations.

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

Students share their stories at UH Hilo International Film Festival

UH Hilo cross-country Vulcan Anna Mikkelsen is a long way from home, living the dream in Hawai’i nei

UH Hilo senior and agriculturalist Miguel Bravo Escobar hopes to make a difference in the Colombian economy

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


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