Column by Lauren Okinaka: UH Hilo was the stepping stone to my dream career

I took a class called Introduction to News Writing and Reporting; my instructor was the first person who told me I was an excellent writer and should continue on a career path in writing.

Lauren Okinaka with Hilo Bay in background
Lauren Okinaka. Courtesy photo.

By Lauren Okinaka.
Lauren Okinaka was a student at UH Hilo from January 2019 to May 2021 majoring in communication with a minor in English. She wrote for UH Hilo Stories during spring semester 2021.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is where I discovered my passion for writing.

I was born and raised in Hilo and was a passionate ballet dancer who trained at various ballet schools in Honolulu, Washington D.C., and New York City. Due to a devastating injury, I returned home and graduated from Waiakea High School in 2018.

After 14 years of dancing ballet, I was determined to find my new passion. The path to discovering my dream career was a difficult one. I started at UH Hilo in spring 2019 as a psychology major. Later, I switched to a communication major with a minor in English because I knew I loved writing and learning about people. Though I was making progress, I was struggling to find a career that encompassed all the aspects I enjoyed.

Almost two years into my degree, I took a class called Introduction to News Writing and Reporting (ENG 285). I had almost no idea what journalism was at the time. My instructor, Patsy Iwasaki, was the first person who told me I was an excellent writer and should continue on a career path in writing. She was always there for me when I had questions or needed encouragement.

In spring 2021, a staff writer position for Ke Kalahea, the student-run newspaper, opened up. I applied and was hired immediately. Throughout the semester, my love for writing and journalism developed and I made lifelong friends and networks that I will cherish forever. I would like to thank Kasumi Collins, former editor in chief, Tiffany Edwards Hunt, the editorial advisor, and the entire team for supporting and encouraging me throughout my time with Ke Kalahea.

At the same time, I was hired as an intern with the Office of the Chancellor. I wrote weekly feature stories about UH Hilo alumni, faculty, and students for this website, UH Hilo Stories. I would like to thank Susan Enright, the public information specialist, and Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin for the opportunity to expand my writing experience and to write about the amazing people of UH Hilo.

Mid-semester, I applied for and was offered a summer internship with HAWAI’I Magazine through the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). SPJ internships give college students from Hawai‘i hands-on experiences in print, online, and broadcast media. HAWAI’I Magazine is the state’s only national/international magazine and I will be working with editor Catherine Toth Fox and associate editor Kevin Allen.

I also applied to the journalism program at UH Mānoa and was accepted; I will be transferring to UH Mānoa this fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

My education and experiences at UH Hilo were my stepping stones to apply to the journalism program at UH Mānoa. I would like to thank all the instructors and professors at UH Hilo for their commitment to their students’ success and growth. My time at UH Hilo allowed me to discover my passion and purpose and I am on my way to a meaningful career.


Update: In addition to the internship with HAWAI‘I Magazine, Ms. Okinaka has been accepted for an internship for college credit with Hawai‘i Business Magazine that starts in August 2021. In the fall she will be the news and features editor at Ka Leo, the student newspaper at UH Mānoa. She also has received a $1,000 scholarship from the Big Island Press Club.