UH Hilo nursing alumna is first Obama Foundation scholar from Hawai‘i

Kealohaku‘ualohaku‘upoki‘i Balaz is the first person from Hawai‘i to be selected for the Obama Foundation scholar program since its inception in 2018.

Kealohaku‘ualohaku‘upoki‘i Balaz pictured.
Kealohaku‘ualohaku‘upoki‘i Balaz (Courtesy photo)

The Obama Foundation has selected University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and UH Mānoa alumna Kealohaku‘ualohaku‘upoki‘i Balaz for its prestigious scholars program. Balaz is the first person from Hawai‘i to be selected for the program since its inception in 2018.

Balaz earned her bachelor of science in nursing from UH Mānoa’s Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing, executive master of business administration from UH Mānoa’s Shidler College of Business, a master in nursing education from the University of Oklahoma, and her doctor of nursing practice from UH Hilo’s School of Nursing.

Logo: University of Hawaii ayt Hilo School of Nursing. With taro and a rainbow.“UH has played an important role in my professional and individual growth. That’s really where it started,” Balaz says. “Being at UH, you really get to learn about yourself as an undergrad, as a grad student. I think going to UH really helped me enhance my passion or identify spaces where I want to connect.”

“What I love the most is that there was never a glass ceiling,” she says. “All of these experiences, with UH being at the foundation, have helped me to create a career that I never saw coming or that I never thought would lead me to become a scholar in this program.”

The Wahiawā native and Leilehua High School graduate is currently the chief policy and compliance officer for Lunalilo Home, a facility that provides a variety of services for kūpuna, and a clinician (nurse practitioner) in the memory care clinic within geriatrics at Kōkua Kalihi Valley Health Center. Balaz previously served as the interim executive director of Lunalilo Home.

Balaz is a member of the Native Hawaiian Health Advisory Board and the Policy Advisory Board for Elderly Affairs, holds numerous other board appointments and volunteers for various organizations, including Special Olympics Hawai‘i. She is a recipient of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Aloha Chapter Advocate of the Year Award, the Pacific Business News 40 Under 40 award and Hawai‘i Business Magazine 20 for the next 20 award.

Balaz says that when she was informed that she is the first Obama Foundation scholar from Hawaiʻi, it made her feel honored to represent Hawai‘i. “The fact that I am a woman and Native Hawaiian, it just really felt surreal. It changed my life.”

As part of the Obama Scholars program, Balaz will participate in a year-long robust curriculum for leadership by the Obama Foundation in conjunction with Columbia World Projects at Columbia University. Balaz said the program will help her to reflect on her work, refine her leadership approach and build her personal resilience as she creates action plans to bring home to her current roles in Hawaiʻi. She will also receive mentorship, an executive coach and networking opportunities.

“I hope to take everything that I learn and hopefully be able to create something that can better our communities and our future,” she says.

Read the full story by Marc Arakaki at UH System News.