For Chaminade University student Hulali Kinilau, combining Native Hawaiian cultural practices with science and conservation is her passion and career goal. She also regards this three-pronged approach as key to achieving sustainability in the ecologically fragile Aloha State.
Kinilau, who’s double majoring in Cellular and Molecular Biology and Environmental Studies, was greatly influenced this past summer by the Hawaii Conservation Conference, which had a theme of “He Waʻa, He Moku – Mālama Honua: Caring for Our Island Earth.”
This 24th annual gathering at the Hawaii Convention Center brought together scientists, educators, students, conservation practitioners and community members with the goal of preserving natural resources in the Pacific region and beyond.
“I was blown away by the people at the conference,” said Kinilau, who’s attending Chaminade through the Ho`oulu STEM Scholarship Program funded by the university and Kamehameha Schools. “It was amazing to hear what what they had to say.
“I especially enjoyed learning about the scientific techniques that were being done in the outer islands within smaller communities,” Kinilau continued. “The scientists were working on establishing a connection with the community and figuring out what the community’s interests, needs and concerns were. Only after determining what could benefit the community did the scientists begin their studies/experiments.”
A declaration by one of the conference speakers that “Hawaiian culture is science” made a particular impact on Kinilau.
“I thought it was the most profound statement I could have heard that day,” she said. “And it was when I decided that – as a Native Hawaiian female in science – I have to do more.”
With that ambition in mind, Kinilau is applying for summer internships and master’s and Ph.D. programs on the Mainland.
“My plan is to focus on getting a higher education that builds on my scientific knowledge and experience,” she said. “Once I’ve done that, I plan on returning home and collaborating with the programs that are present on the Islands.”
Aiding Kinilau in her graduate school preparations are an internship with the Sierra Club and participation in Chaminade’s I Am a Scientist mobile outreach program, which encourages public school children to pursue STEM educations and careers.
“Both the internship and the I Am a Scientist events are helping me develop the communication skills needed when talking to the community on a scientific topic,” Kinilau said. “I’m learning how to gain the interests of the community through social media, while connecting them with knowledgeable individuals who have actively participated in conservation efforts on Oahu.”
Reflecting on her Chaminade education, Kinilau said she appreciates the confidence shown in her by Biology Assistant Professor Jolene Cogbill, Biology Lecturer Chrystie Naeole and Environmental Studies Associate Professor Gail Grabowsky.
“They have been the most supportive and understanding,” Kinilau said. “I’m grateful that they’re in my life.
“The staff at Chaminade University want you to succeed in all walks of life,” Kinilau added, “and they are willing and able to help you achieve your goals. Even if you have no idea what it is that you want to do with your degree, they will help you figure it out.”