UH Hilo Quintessential University Citizen: Helen Tien, connecting with students and faculty from multiple disciplines

The dean of the College of Business and Economics praises Helen Tien as being organized, knowledgeable, proactive but consultative, going above and beyond the call of duty to get things done.

By Leah Sherwood

Helen Tien speaking.
Helen Tien, instructor of management and marketing, lectures on “Assertiveness Training” at the second annual Women in STEM Conference at UH Hilo, March 5, 2020. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri.

This post is part of a series on Quintessential University Citizens at UH Hilo. The honorees were chosen by members of the Chancellor’s Executive Council and others during the first months after Chancellor Bonnie Irwin’s arrival at the university in July 2019.

Helen Tien, an expert in marketing and management, left the bustling startup scene in Dallas, Texas, to join the College of Business and Economics (CoBE) at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo in 2018, and has already had a big impact on campus thanks to her ability to connect with students and faculty from multiple disciplines.

Tien, who now serves dual roles as a marketing instructor and an academic and career advisor at the college, was initially brought on board as an external mentor for students.

“Former dean [of the college], Tam Vu, saw my resume and thought my experience would help CoBE students with career development,” explains Tien. “I started out by just helping students with their resumes, finding internships, and interview training.”

In 2019, in a nod to her successful first year teaching at the college, UH Hilo students acknowledged Tien by nominating her for the Chancellor’s Award in Excellence in Teaching.

This year, her contributions to UH Hilo have earned her recognition by the Chancellor’s Executive Council as a Quintessential University Citizen.

Emmeline de Pillis, interim dean of the College of Business and Economics who nominated Tien for the honor, praises her as “organized, knowledgeable about marketing, and proactive but consultative,” adding that she “goes above and beyond the call of duty to get things done.”

Bruce Mathews, dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, says of Tien, “She’s able to really connect with students.”

“So many faculty are siloed into their disciplines; she is a holistic thinker,” Mathews adds. “It’s tough finding people with high energy and with solid smarts and not only smart with their own subject area.”

Helen Tien on the dais receiving award. She wears lei.
Helen Tien (at right) receives the Chancellor’s Award in Excellence in Teaching from Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai, May 2019. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri.

Role model

Tien is originally from Taiwan but moved to Plano, Texas, when she was eight years old. Already an entrepreneur in high school, at age 15 she won a business competition at the University of Texas at Dallas with an idea for crowd-sourcing exotic ingredients. This eventually led to a full scholarship to the university, where she earned a master’s degree in marketing. She then pursued a successful career developing marketing strategies for a series of startups in the Dallas area.

Even though Tien has become a role model for students at UH Hilo, she says that higher education was not on her radar as a likely career path.

“I grew up in a business-oriented family,” she says. “Before teaching I was always certain that I was going to be in the corporate world. But I can definitely say working at UH Hilo has changed my path. I love the impact I can make on preparing excellent business professionals for the community!”

Tien says that her mentoring is most helpful to students who are unsure of what they want to do and do not know how to look for their first job. “I take a pretty personalized approach,” she says. “Our university size allows us to really offer one-on-one consulting. I can get to know every CoBe student’s strengths and personalities in order to better help them develop a career path.”

Advice to graduating students, job seekers during a pandemic

With graduating students facing an uncertain future amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Tien is advising job seekers to continuously differentiate themselves from other candidates.

“Remember to find your professional strengths and continuously work on them post-graduation,” advises Tien. “Sign up for a masterclass, learn a new program, or pick up a language that could be useful in your industry. Also, take the time to reflect on how COVID-19 will change your field.”

She also encourages students to build up their social network, for example by re-connecting with friends and colleagues. “Finding a great job is about finding the perfect fit between your personality, skills, and environment. The more people who are in your network, the better the chance you’ll find that great job.”


Story by Leah Sherwood, a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at UH Hilo. She received her bachelor of science in biology and bachelor of arts in English from Boise State University.

Related post

UH Hilo College of Business and Economics prepares students for workforce with Career Development Program

Share this story