Hawai‘i Community College and UH Hilo alum now at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine

Ala Matsumoto, a Hawai‘i Community College graduate who then enrolled at UH Hilo where he earned a pre-veterinary bachelor of science degree with a biology minor, is now enrolled at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

By Thatcher Moats

Ala Matsumoto with two dogs
Ala Matsumoto with his two Shelties, Kama and Malu, which he brought to Iowa where he is studying to be a veterinarian. Courtesy photo.

Kealaka‘i “Ala” Matsumoto, a Hawai‘i Community College graduate with an associate of arts degree (2011) who then completed his bachelor of science degree at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (2016), is now enrolled at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, one of the most prestigious vet schools in the country.

“Hopefully my success can inspire local kids to dream big,” Matsumoto says. “I grew up low-income, from a broken home, and without any college-educated family members but still pursued my dreams.”

Matsumoto is the only Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander at the oldest public veterinary school in the country.

“I would love to see more Native Hawaiian representation within the Hawai‘i medical field as a whole,” he says. “We can be doctors, but we too often believe it’s beyond our reach.”

Matsumoto’s time at Hawai‘i Community College was an important turning point. As a student at Waiākea High School, he chose the beach over books and did the minimum required to earn passing grades. At Hawai‘i CC, however, he found more purpose in academic work, especially as he applied what he learned in the classroom to the real world.

“Going through the classes, especially when I got to the practicum levels, it clicked: ‘You know, I’m good at this college thing,’” he says. “I was on the dean’s list, which surprised me. I felt very accomplished.”

He earned an associate of arts in liberal arts and a certificate in human services from the community college, credentials that prepared him to transfer to UH Hilo to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Just as he was entering UH Hilo, however, and getting ready to double major in psychology and sociology, came a surprising twist.

“My brother was babysitting my puppy for me and called me and said he ran over my dog,” Matsumoto recalls. “I said, ‘What do you mean?! You’re babysitting him!’ I took the puppy to the vet, and working with the vet there, something clicked and I said, ‘You know what? I want to become a vet. I want to do this.’”

Matsumoto, who grew up involved in the local rodeo community and has owned dozens of pets in his lifetime, soon switched majors at UH Hilo to earn a bachelor of science in agriculture with a specialization in pre-veterinary medicine, with a minor in biology, in 2016.

A couple years after graduating from UH Hilo, he applied to veterinary schools and got in.

Matsumoto has grown to appreciate Iowa despite being nervous about moving there, but Hilo is his home, and when he graduates in 2023 he plans to return.

Full story and photos at the Hawai‘i Community College news website.


Story by Thatcher Moats, external affairs coordinator at Hawai‘i Community College.