Hiʻilei Kawelo

Paepae o Heʻeia
Executive Director
High School Attended
Punahou School, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi
College Attended
University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa


Hiʻilei Kawelo

Job Description

I am the Executive Director of a small non-profit organization that cares for and manages Heʻeia Fishpond. I have the responsibility of making sure the org. has money and that we can maintain staff necessary to run all of our programs. Successful programs are what we feel are necessary for a healthy organization and in turn a healthy fishpond. The fishpond that we manage is a 600-800 year old cultural treasure, built by Hawaiians for the purpose of feeding people in the ahupuaʻa of Heʻeia.

Interest in Field

My upbringing is why I do what I do. I grew up in a fishing family. The ocean resources were so very important to my kupuna. The resources and place that I’m from define who it is that I am and will be just as important to my children. It was only natural that I pursue an environmental career. I held a variety of internships to gain environmental work experience. My first real job, after college, was at the Oceanic Institute, where I was a research technician in the Stock Enhancement Program. I enjoyed the experience and learned a great deal, but was not satisfied with “just” research. I had been volunteering and a part-time employee at Heʻeia Fishpond since 2000, so decided to leave OI for a full time job with Paepae o Heʻeia that I knew would benefit the greater community.

How did you get there?

Internships were key to my success. Being able to experience and work with different agencies and in different conservation/environmental fields allowed me to get a feel of what I wanted to do. I held internships with the Hawaiʻi Nature Center as a Tantalus Ranger, the Hawaiʻi Youth Conservation Corps, DLNR’s Forestry and Wildlife, the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission, the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, and the Oceanic Institute. I worked at Oceanic Institute for 5 years after interning with them for a summer and have been with POH for 7 years as one of the original founders of our NPO. Within POH I’ve been a high school science teacher, the Research Coordinator, the Lead Fish Researcher, the Site Coordinator and am currently the ED. I believe that in addition to my upbringing, having a wide variety of work experience has made me better equip to be the ED of POH.

Necessary Qualifications

In order of importance:

  1. Work Experience, both previous work experience and time and experience at the place of employment (He’eia Fishpond). There really isn’t any place you can go to be trained on how to be a good fishpond manager. Managing He’eia Fishpond is place specific, the more time and commitment you can devote, the stronger and more intimate you will become with the place, and the better you will be as a manger.
  2. Education. I got a BA in Zoology from UH Mānoa and also receive a certificate with the Marine Options Program. I was schooled in western science but have a foundation as a cultural practitioner (fishing).
  3. Understanding of the organization’s inner workings. I could not have become the ED with out having had 6 years experience as a POH employee in all different capacities.

Rewards of Work

I get to work in the community in which I live and the community where my family is from. Being a small non-profit, we get to be creative, and get to dress comfortably everyday at work. Work is never boring and always enjoyable and rewarding. Some days I’m a teacher, some days a scientist, some days an archaeologist, some days I work construction, some days I get to be a fish farmer, but everyday I’m Hawaiian and everyday a student, I am always learning!

Relevant Work Experience

  • Hawaiʻi Nature Center, Tantalus Ranger
  • YCC Intern
  • DLNR Forestry and Wildlife Intern
  • UH-HIP/ Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission Intern
  • Teaching Assistant Ethnic Studies (Hawaiians) UH Mānoa
  • Oceanic Institute Intern
  • Oceanic Institute Research Technician
  • Paepae o Heʻeia Employee (Science Teacher, Site Coordinator, Research Coordinator)
  • Paepae o Heʻeia Executive Director

Typical Day

  • Check e-mails at home
  • Check POH Mail
  • At office (e-mail correspondence with different partners, organizations, agencies, etc., approve expenditures, sign checks, e-mail staff, schedule meetings, meet, grant coordination)
  • Check on pond
  • Fridays at the pond
  • Saturdays at the pond (feed fish, community workdays)

Words of Wisdom

You wish you knew...

Networking is important! Make contacts early on in your career and maintain those contacts, they will prove to come in handy later on.

You wish you were told...

Being able to communicate effectively is a skill and had I know that I would become ED, I wish that I had taken a class on communication and HR management.

Final Comments / Advice

Gotta be passionate!!