Ambitious first-generation UH Hilo student on pathway from Honoka‘a High School to Doctor of Pharmacy, without ever leaving home

Living the dream: UH Hilo pharmacy student Nina Cardoza dreamed of becoming a pharmacist and returning to her home town to establish a pharmacy for her beloved community.

By Alyssa Mathews.

Nina Cardoza
Nina Cardoza

This story is the first in a series on Hawaiʻi Island residents finding a path from their hometown high school into UH Hilo’s pharmacy college.

Born and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo student Nina Cardoza is a graduate of Honoka’a High School, where she was able to use a dual-credit program to gain college credit while she was still in high school. The program helped her get a head start on pursuing a degree in pharmacy.

Farrah-Marie Gomes
Farrah-Marie Gomes

Cardoza earned dual-credit through the North Hawaiʻi Education and Research Center (NHERC), a UH Hilo outreach center based in Honokaʻa dedicated to providing higher education opportunities to rural communities in North Hawaiʻi. Her biggest champion was Farrah-Marie Gomes, then founding director of the center and now vice chancellor for student affairs at the UH Hilo main campus. Gomes personally encouraged Cardoza to enroll in the dual-credit classes, gain confidence, and then apply for college and financial aid.

The North Hawaiʻi Education and Research Center is a place for people in the community to come together and share resources and information.

“At the time NHERC opened it had several core missions, one was to serve as a distance-learning center for the university, another one was to bring higher education opportunities to the community,” says Gomes. “Another mission was to serve as a community center—basically a place for people in the community to be able to come together and share resources and information.”

The center opened in May 2006, and has continued to serve North Hawaiʻi by providing education resources and opportunities, such as giving guidance to students pursuing higher education.

“There is an academic advisor on staff at the center so students can seek out services, just like how people would do here on campus,” says Gomes.

From Honoka’a High to UH Hilo Pharmacy Program

Cardoza, the oldest of five children, is the first person in her immediate and extended family on both sides to go to college. Born in Hilo and raised in Paʻauilo, Cardoza went to Paʻauilo Elementary and Intermediate School. While at Honoka’a High School, she enrolled in Early College/Running Start classes that were offered on the high school’s campus. The classes are offered to high school students and taught by university professors. After completion, students earn both high school and college credit, true to the term “dual-credit.” The program gave Cardoza insight into the rigor of university classes.

Nina Cardoza dreamed she would one day become a pharmacist on Hawaiʻi Island who would help serve her community of Honokaʻa through an enjoyable career.

“NHERC provided many resources and opportunities to Honoka’a High School [students], including college classes,” says Cardoza. “I took an English 100 class, and it opened up my perspective to what college life would be like. It helped prepare me mentally and gave me a good idea on what the workload would be like. I learned very early on that in college you have to be willing to put in work and time, no one else can force you.”

She dreamed that she would one day become a pharmacist on Hawaiʻi Island who would help serve her community of Honokaʻa through an enjoyable career.

After graduating from Honoka’a High School in 2015, Cardoza enrolled at Hawaiʻi Community College to fulfill her general education requirements before transferring to UH Hilo to complete her pharmacy prerequisites. She says she was drawn to UH Hilo because of the opportunities offered in the pharmacy college and because it enabled her to stay on Hawaiʻi Island while pursuing her degree.

“I wanted to stay close to home so that I would be able to continue to help my family and my community as well,” she says. “I looked into college here on Hawaiʻi [Island] and was very pleased with UH Hilo, especially by their mission to challenge students to reach their highest level of academic achievement by inspiring learning. Having a college here on Hawaiʻi was very convenient for me.”

Career Goal: Give Back

Before entering the pharmacy college, Cardoza was working as a pharmacy technician, but she now is focused on her studies in hopes to further her reach in helping the community after completing her degree.

“My career goal is to become a pharmacist and take on the responsibilities associated with helping others to ensure that they get the best health that they deserve,” she says. “I plan to stay on the Big Island and work at a pharmacy here, like I was doing as a pharmacy technician, but eventually as the pharmacist. My ultimate goal is to work in a pharmacy close to the community that I was born and raised in. I want to share the knowledge I learn and prevent families from enduring pain felt when a loved one is suffering. Instead, I want families to celebrate life as they enjoy long and flourishing healthy lives.”

“Nina’s journey reminds us about the special role that UH Hilo is uniquely positioned to fulfill here on Hawaiʻi Island.”–Vice Chancellor Gomes

Cardoza lives in her hometown of Paʻauilo on the Hāmākua Coast, striving toward her ultimate goal of one day opening a pharmacy in her local community.

Gomes explains that the small town of Honokaʻa once had a pharmacy but it closed because it wasn’t able to sustain itself.

“Nina’s goal is to be able to one day reopen the pharmacy in Honokaʻa,” says Gomes. “When we look at the people who are driving to Waimea to get refills on prescriptions, that’s a twenty mile drive for them. If you’ve been to Waimea, you know it’s not always the best weather—foggy, rainy—and we have people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s who are doing that to get their medication. Nina’s big dream is to be able to own and operate her own pharmacy while being able to serve the community in ways she remembers while growing up.”

Gomes says Cardoza has come far through actively seeking out resources such as NHERC and Early College and remaining dedicated to her goals of serving her community.

“Being of Native-Hawaiian background, being a first-generation college student who graduated from a local high school, starting at Hawaiʻi Community College and transferring to UH Hilo, and getting into the College of Pharmacy—it’s a meritorious journey,” says Gomes. “Nina’s journey reminds us about the special role that UH Hilo is uniquely positioned to fulfill here on Hawaiʻi Island.”

Story by Alyssa Mathews, a freshman at UH Hilo. She graduated from Waiakea High School and is a UH Hilo Chancellor’s Scholar.

Also in this series:


Honor student takes pathway from Honoka‘a High to Eastern Oregon U to UH Hilo pharmacy program

From Hilo High to UH Hilo: Pharmacy student researches pharmaceuticals through a Hawaiian cultural perspective

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