Lihau Keoneula Stender ’24 loves the outdoors.
On any given weekend, she’ll hit the beach, go for a hike or volunteer for a clean-up.
That passion for Hawaii’s natural environment drove Stender to double-major in both Biology and Environmental Sciences at Chaminade. And it inspired her to put the skills and knowledge she was learning into action, both as a volunteer and as an intern at a hydroponics company in the islands.
“When I would go to the beach or hiking, I noticed a lot of people were not taking care of the environment like they should be,” Stender said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I should focus on that and do some good for the community.’ I really like helping out and feeling as if I’m part of the solution.”
Stender, who graduated from Punahou School and lives in Palolo, chose to attend Chaminade after being selected for Ho’oulu Scholarship. The scholarship covers all four years of tuition, and includes career development advising, connections to paid internships, wraparound academic support and service-learning projects.
“Chaminade is five minutes from where I live. I was super-excited about the scholarship and about attending a university with a strong Biology program. Here, I can stay home and save money,” she said.
Stender kicked off her Chaminade career at the beginning of the pandemic, which meant her first semester was online. To shake off stress, she’d get outdoors—and notice things she didn’t like. People leaving their trash behind on the beach, on hiking trails and along the side of the road.
She knew she needed to do something about the problem.
And she got the chance in one of her Environmental Studies classes when she participated in the Waiale’e Volunteer Workday, a special opportunity from the North Shore Community Land Trust to help restore native ecosystems and traditional Hawaiian agriculture. The volunteer day is held on the third Saturday of each month. And after her first volunteering experience, Stender was hooked.
“I’m continuing to volunteer with this project, which is so hands-on,” she said. “Most times, we’re clearing California grass and dead trees. Last month, I brought a friend of mine and we had so much fun clearing this little marsh pit. I just love doing manual labor sometimes. You feel like you’re helping.”
Stender also helps in another important way. Through Chaminade, she was able to secure a full internship with Bee’s Greens Co., an aquaponics company that sells their locally grown lettuce to Roy’s restaurants and other eateries and donates everything they can’t use.
Stender said she was delighted to learn the manager at Bee’s Greens is a Chaminade graduate.
And shortly after starting at the company, which operates an urban farm using vertical hydroponic growing systems, Stender realized the joy of caring for plants as they grow and thrive. “It helps me make that connection—between what I’ve learned and what I can do,” she said. “It’s one thing to learn about sustainable farming in the classroom. It’s another thing to actually help a sustainable farm.”
She added that her internship has gotten her to think about other ways that Hawaii could grow significantly more of its own food. Today, more than 90% of food sold in the islands is shipped in. But it wasn’t always that way. “We used to be very self-sustainable,” Stender said. “And we can do it again.”
As she continues her journey at Chaminade, Stender is also excited about life after college.
She’s not sure whether she wants to jump into the workforce or seek a graduate degree.
But she does know she wants to continue making a positive impact. “My advice to other young people is: if you’re not doing something good, you’re kind of hindering it, in a way,” she said. “Serving the community really benefits others and also yourself—because you’re growing, too.”