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Senior Transportation Planner & Airport Project Manager
Trinity County Department of Transportation, Trinity County, California
I graduated UH Hilo in Spring 2018 with my Bachelor’s in Geography and Certificate in Pre-Law. Awesome professors and once-in-a-lifetime field trips from the Department of Geography & Environmental Science introduced me to GIS, zero-emission alternatives, and aviation planning, which all set the foundation for a meaningful yet surprisingly eccentric career in transportation planning and aviation.
Since then, I earned my Master’s in Urban Planning from California State University – Northridge and a Certificate of Transit and Paratransit Management from University of the Pacific in 2021. I am the current youngest Airport Manager in the United States and manage infrastructure projects for 5 airports in northern California. I also oversee local transit operations with the intent of reinventing a diesel-based bus agency into a zero-emission one. Even though I earned my Masters from another university, I fully credit UH Hilo for fine-tuning the technical and interpersonal skills needed for a career in planning. With experience from UH Hilo and a few more years as a Senior Transportation Planner, I hope to become a Director of Public Works for a local government agency in California.
Business Development Representative
UserTribe, Copenhagen, Denmark
Engaging Professors, fun field trips, local rugby and a fiancée—what a great choice UH Hilo was! I learned a lot in my environmental studies program, made connections for life, and challenged myself in many areas. I was fortunate to be a recipient of the Geography Department Juvik scholarship award. This enabled me to have greater responsibility within the department and engage in extracurricular events. It showed to me that all the hard work I put in the classroom could really contribute to real Hilo projects. My junior year I took advantage of UH’s Study Abroad program. New Zealand! Wow—great classes, new perspectives, more rugby and met my now- fiancée!
Once I graduated in 2017, I had the opportunity to intern as a team leader with Kupu . Without any of the resources and connections I made at UH Hilo, I doubt I would’ve gotten the opportunity. After my summer internship, I moved to London. A sales position with a focus on sustainability. My portfolio focused on green and sustainable shipping. I worked with clients who handled invasive species management in international shipping. They were also improving the carbon impact of shipping through using renewable sources of propulsion. I really enjoyed applying my coursework and got the opportunity to travel to different events (Montreal, Copenhagen, Miami and lots in London). I have since transitioned to the SaaS (Software as a Service) industry in Copenhagen, where I am still in sales utilizing the knowledge I gained at university. My liberal education prepared me to tackle different situations and be adaptable in a global economy hit by the pandemic.
County of Hawaiʻi Real Property Tax Division, Hawaiʻi
I graduated with a B.A. in Geography Environmental Studies in the Spring of 2019 and went on to graduate school the following semester. The lessons I learned both in and out of the classroom as an undergraduate in the Geography Department not only gave me the tools I needed to succeed in graduate school, but it also helped me become more well-rounded as an individual, allowing me to be a better civil servant and make positive contributions to the communities that I work for. As a first-generation college student, I wasn't sure what to expect during my academic journey at UH Hilo but, through the process of working and learning alongside a diverse group of like-minded individuals and professors who are passionate about seeing their students succeed, I was able to develop a broad range of skills that helped me grow as an environmental steward.
Currently, I am a second-year TCBES graduate student who is working with the County of Hawaiʻi Real Property Tax Division and helping them expand the capacity for island-wide native forest restoration. During my internship, I was actively involved in developing and proposing new legislation that will provide private landowners with reduced property tax rates for native forest restoration. My role as an intern has been creating documents that will support the implementation of the proposed legislation as it will help streamline the process for the county, helping them to effectively and efficiently evaluate forestry management plans while also providing landowners with the tools they need to maximize the success of their native forest restoration endeavors. While I am a little unsure about what I will end up doing after graduate school, I plan on staying in Hawaiʻi and doing my part to help preserve and protect the natural wonders that make Hawaiʻi so special.
Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Erlangen, Germany
I graduated in 2019 with a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science. When I enrolled at UH-Hilo, all I knew was that I wanted to work with plants and save the world. The diverse courses within the Geography department allowed me to explore and identify the aspects of conservation research that I found most interesting. Through numerous field trips, research projects, and academic guidance, I was able to gain classroom and work experience in remote sensing and GIS that paved the path for my post-graduate goals.
After graduation, I interned with the Pacific Internship Program for Exploring Science Pacific Internship Program for Exploring Science (PIPES), working with Ulu Ching and Conservation International, on community-based natural resource management. Upon completion of the program, I worked under Dr. Ryan Perroy in the Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Lab (SDAV) for a year. During these work experiences I practiced techniques in natural resource management, data interpretation, and geodatabase management. Now, I am attending Friedrich-Alexander University (Erlangen, Germany) in their MSc. Physical Geography: Climate and Environmental Science program, where I hope to graduate in 2022.
U.S. Army, Germany
I graduated in 2019 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science. I came to UH-Hilo with a basic understanding of what I was getting myself into but thanks to a diverse set of classes, I was exposed to the many sides of Environmental Science. Through the Geography department I took part in various field trips, research projects and learning environments. One of the most memorable field trips was with the Tropical Soils class taught by Dr. Li, here we learned about the various soil layers that made up some of the forests located throughout the Island of Hawaiʻi.
Following graduation, I began my current career with the U.S. Army as a Chemical Officer. I attended Chemical Basic Officer Leadership Course, CBOLC, at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. At CBOLC I received instruction on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense. The education that I received at UH Hilo helped me to have a better understanding of the science that I was being taught at CBOLC and helped me to graduate within the top 44% of my class. I am currently serving in Germany as the staff Chemical Officer.
Mary Fem Urena
Coastal Resource Planner
Division of Coastal Resources Management, Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands
I graduated in 2019 with a B.S. in Environmental Science and a Certificate in Planning. As a student from Micronesia, I felt welcomed in the Geography and Environmental studies department and was grateful to learn more about the Pacific Region and the rest of the world from the lens of geography. In addition to valuable knowledge taught in class, my experiences at UH Hilo taught me how cultural knowledge (traditional and nontraditional) plays an important role in our human interactions in the environment which is key to addressing many of our environmental issues. It was inspiring to be amongst other Pacific Islanders and experience the Native Hawaiian culture through place-based learning.
I am currently employed by the local government environmental agency at my home island of Saipan located in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). I work on coastal planning projects funded by NOAA's Office of Coastal Management. I lead the CNMI’s long-term shoreline monitoring program, which surveys transects along sandy beaches in Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
As a planner, I engage with other local/federal government agencies and stakeholders on projects/plans aiming to improve the quality of our natural resources and resiliency of our infrastructure to coastal hazards, such as typhoons. Although I did not study shoreline science or coastal resource management, I believe that these undergraduate classes equipped me with helpful skills (such as GIS, report writing, field work, and adaptability). I intend to pursue a Master’s degree in the near future, keeping my island community in mind.
Community Outreach Specialist
Big Island Invasive Species Committee, Hawaiʻi
I currently work part-time as a community outreach specialist at the Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC). Our office is based in Hilo but I've been working from my home in Waimea since the start of the pandemic. It was actually a specific class that I took at UH-Hilo that set me on my career path. I took GEOG 382- Qualitative Research with Dr. Kathryn Besio in my last semester and I absolutely loved it!
After I graduated in 2016, I participated in a summer internship with the PIPES program, which was super awesome. I got placed with BIISC and worked under a PhD student from Stanford, Becky Niemiec, who was helping them develop and launch a little fire ant support program for communities on the Big Island. I was hired on full-time in 2017 and have been a BIISC-uit ever since. I decided to go back to school last year and am currently in the TCBES graduate program at UH-Hilo. If all goes well, I will be graduating in the spring of 2021.
Resource Management Assistant
Office of Maunakea Management, Hawaiʻi
I graduated in May 2012 with a B.S. in Environmental Science. The one thing I loved the most was how amazingly knowledgeable, enthusiastic, helpful, and fun the Geography professors are. The Geography and Environmental Science Club was also one of my highlights of the program. We participated in service projects all over the island, such as planting and giving away over 200 koa trees at the UH Hilo Earth Day Fair.
After I graduated, I interned with the Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Sciences (PIPES), working with Dr. Jesse Eiben and the Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM). I have been working at OMKM for almost 3 years now, helping to manage University of Hawaiʻi lands on Maunakea including Halepōhaku facilities, the road corridor, the Maunakea Science Reserve, and the Astronomy precinct at the summit. Most of my work deals with invasive species; including prevention, monitoring, and control with a particular focus on arthropods. Even though I am in a position that I love, I plan to start the UH Hilo TCBES Masters program in Fall 2015 to continue my passion for conservation and arthropods.
Predator Control Coordinator
Limahuli Garden and Preserve, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Kauaʻi
I graduated in 2011 with a B.A. in Geography. My studies taught me the importance of the relationships between people and the environment. I especially appreciated the experience and knowledge I gained from participating in the amazing field trips offered in most of the Geography classes.
I work in the upper Limahuli Preserve, a 400 acre hanging valley on the north shore of Kauaʻi, controlling invasive animals and plants to protect the species such as Hawaiian petrel and Newell’s shearwater, and to restore the ecosystem. Access to the Preserve is by helicopter only, where we stay in the field for five days at a time. My schedule is one week in the field, the next week in the office, alternating all year.
Alaska Forum on the Environment, Anchorage, Alaska
I graduated in 2011 with a B.S. in Environmental Science. My professors and advisors in the Geography and Environmental Science Department pushed me to be the best student I could be, and without their help and encouragement, I may not have succeeded in graduating college. This program prepared me well for the professional field of environmental science.
I recently transitioned from living in Bristol Bay, Alaska, working as a regional subsistence fisheries scientist, to the youth track coordinator for the Alaska Forum on the Environment (AFE). AFE is an annual environmental conference that is held in Anchorage every February. I develop and execute activities to facilitate the students’ interacting with AFE exhibitors, presenters, and other participants to gather information they can apply to projects they want to develop in their communities. This fall (2015), I plan to pursue my Masters in Outdoor Education at Alaska Pacific University.
San Francisco, California
I graduated in 2010 with a B.S. in Environmental Science. When I decided to study Environmental Science and Biology, I figured there must be no better place to do so than on an island referred to as “the world’s greatest natural laboratory.” Studying at UH Hilo is more than an education; it is an adventure. My education and experience there allowed me to not only land my dream job, but a series of them.
The extensive ecology, biology, and conservation education I received allowed me to work with endangered nene geese as a biological monitor on Kauaʻi right out of school. Later, I was able to parlay the lessons I had learned studying aesthetics and art as electives into working with artists and musicians on a range of projects. In my current role as a production designer, I use the elements and principles of design that I learned studying GIS in order to build interesting scenes for talented directors and photographers in and around San Francisco.
I knew going into my education that I didn’t want to be “pigeonholed.” What I didn’t realize was just how well-rounded of an education I would receive within the Geography Department, and how many doors would open as a result. I can’t thank my peers and professors at UH Hilo enough for truly pushing me to examine the possibilities.