UH Hilo alumna Lara Sonoda named Hawai‘i Island 2022 Young Professional of the Year

Lara Sonoda (BBA, 2017) is the assistant vice president and commercial banking officer at First Hawaiian Bank’s Waiakea branch in Hilo.

Photo of Lara Sonoda with Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce SINCE 1898 logo, and words: 2022 Young Professional of the Year LARA SONODA B.B.A., 2017 University of Hawai‘i at Hilo


By Susan Enright.

An alumna of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is the 2022 Young Professional of the Year, named by the Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce.

Lara Sonoda (formerly Lara Hughes), a graduate of UH Hilo’s College of Business and Economics (Bachelor of Business Administration, 2017), is the assistant vice president and commercial banking officer at First Hawaiian Bank’s Waiakea branch in Hilo, where she works primarily supporting small business owners from Hawai‘i Island.

“This is such an incredible honor and I’m so grateful to be joining the ranks of the HICC Young Professional of the Year,” says Sonoda. “It’s important to me to see our island community thrive, and working with our local business owners everyday is one way that I can help ensure our local economy and families will be successful today and in the future.”

The award announcement notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sonoda worked long hours to help small businesses apply for loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and survive the financial turmoil caused during that challenging time.

“Working in my role at First Hawaiian Bank and serving with the Hawai‘i Chamber of Commerce has given me the opportunity to get in on the ground floor and effect positive change,” Sonoda says. “Especially when the pandemic hit and I was working nights and weekends to help our local businesses navigate the PPP loan application process and get funding that they needed to help them keep workers employed and their doors open.”

Sonoda currently serves as the president of the local Lambda Psi Chapter of Delta Sigma Pi. She also serves as a director for the Hilo Rotary Club Foundation and is a past president of the Big Island Press Club. She previously volunteered with Special Olympics as an officiate, assistant coach, and chaperone at away games.

Sonoda serves as treasurer for the Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce and helps sponsor seminars and programs to help members conduct better business.

Sonoda describes her childhood as being raised on a sailboat in the Pacific and later growing up in the Ka‘ū desert on Hawai‘i Island. After graduating from Konawaena High School, she traveled throughout Europe and then lived in Italy for several years before returning home in 2014 to reconnect with family and advance her education.

While an undergraduate at UH Hilo, Sonoda was a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor and wrote for this website, UH Hilo Stories, under her maiden name Lara Hughes.


Lara Hughes and a volunteer stand for a photo.
From left, Lara Sonoda (then Lara Hughes) stands with Marian Martez, a volunteer at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia, PA. (Courtesy photo)

Between semesters, in the summer of 2016, Sonoda was an intern at the 2016 Democratic National Convention tasked with volunteer coordination for roughly 17,000 volunteers signed into the system. She received a $3,500.00 scholarship from the Democratic National Convention Committee for her internship at the convention, and half way through was promoted to paid consultant.

Upon graduation from UH Hilo in May of 2017, Sonoda received a national honor of Scholarship Key from Delta Sigma Pi, recognizing hers as the highest grade point average in her class at the business college.


By Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories.