Highly Engaged Learning Positions (HELP)


Welcome to the Highly Engaged Learning Positions (HELP) at the Pacific Islander Student Center (PISC) at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. The HELP program is part of the high impact student employment initiative at the PISC funded by the AANAPISI grant from the US DOE. HELP enables Pacific Islander students at UH Hilo to create meaningful employment opportunities that impact their education while fulfilling a need in the Pacific Islander communities on campus, Big Island, or throughout the Pacific Island regions.

On this website, you can find all things related to the experiential learning and employment opportunities for Pacific Islander students on campus, in the State of Hawaii, or throughout the Pacific region. During the summer our HELP participants (HELPers) will be blogging about their experiential learning positions throughout Hawaii and the Pacific region. Read more

HELP Wanted: AANAPISI Research Assistant

Are you curious and want to be part of a research team at the PISC? Dr. Denise Uehara is searching for a Pacific Islander student (preferably a Sophomore or Junior) who is proficient with Microsoft, Excel, Word, Powerpoint, Publisher, Google Docs, able to work independently, keep accurate records and comfortable with numbers, spreadsheets, tables, charts, and graphics. If so, then check out the new HELP placement and apply for it. View HELP Wanted ad Now.

HELPing Marine Conservation Efforts

By: Mark Bigler
Coastal Fisheries Intern
Marshall Islands Marine Resource Authority, Majuro Marshall Islands

As an avid fisherman and an aspiring marine scientist, I found my experience during my HELP placement not only enjoyable but very beneficial towards my career goals. I was an intern for the Coastal Division of the Marshall Islands Marine Resource Authority (MIMRA) in the Marshall Islands. One of my main objectives was to assist in the collection and dissection of reef food fish in the capital atoll of Majuro. Another one of my objectives was to take part in community outreach work, such as assisting in the planning and logistical arrangements for awareness and monitoring events for stakeholders. Between the time slots of working with my main objectives, I also helped out in other projects dealing with aquaculture, coral analysis and various community outreach activities.

What I focused on during my internship was to learn the various field methods from my co-workers and supervisor. Having worked in other jobs in the United States, I first had to get use to the difference in styles of teaching between my co-workers in the states and the staff at MIMRA. I noticed that my MIMRA co-workers were meticulous with the field and lab methods they were teaching me; granted this was my first job doing marine science work which precision and accuracy is required. I had to learn fast how to handle the work as my co-workers kept a close eye on me until they were satisfied with my performance. I was able to gain some of the skills needed in the field from observing my associates. One new skill I learned was how to extract the otoliths and gonads of reef fish. I had heard of this type of lab procedure before in a fish biology class at UHH, so MIMRA has given me a great advantage for later when I do enroll in the fish biology class.

Perhaps the most humbling experiences during my HELP internship was when we interacted with the Marshallese communities on Majuro and the outer island of Ailuk. The Marshall Islands have seen the impacts of global climate change within the past few decades. These impacts include beaches disappearing due to coastal erosions, and coral reef damage due to changes in water quality. Along with the effects of global climate change, there are also local anthropogenic problems such as litter in the ocean. These local and global impacts on the coastal waters of the Marshall Islands are modern problems that have only risen in the past few decades. Now the Marshallese people have to adjust their ways of life to try and adapt to these modern problems. MIMRA has tackled these issues with community outreach events, showing the people how these problems are affecting our ocean, and what we can do to mitigate. I was intrigued to find the Marshallese communities as a whole, in support of these changes. One example would be the people of Ailuk, which have been living a life style very similar to the lives of Marshallese a hundred years ago. The people of Ailuk understood the changes happening around them, and had asked MIMRA to help provide a long term plan to ensure a better future. I assisted in deploying buoy markers for their Marine Protected Areas and also assisted in an aquaculture development project. Working with the Ailuk community gives hope for a better future for the entire Marshall Islands.

The HELP internship with the Coastal Division of MIMRA that I conducted over the summer has expanded my knowledge in my career field. Although I was born and lived in the Marshall Islands for over 10 years, this internship brought me even closer to the Marshallese community. I would recommend this internship to Marine or Environmental science majors because MIMRA did a great job with exposing me to different aspects of Marine Science work that included many hands on projects. With graduation in the near future, I was thankful to have been a part of the HELP internship program which not only helped me grow into a future marine scientist, but also as a determined Pacific Islander student.

HELPing Youth Development Efforts

By Marli Klass
Conservation Camp Coordinator
Ebiil Society, Palau

I must say that I had one of the best experiences working with you this summer, it was beyond amazing! During the months of May, June, and July, I got to work with Ebiil Society, a non-governmental organization in my homeland of Palau. The organization was all about preservation and teaching of the Palauan culture which included everything from manners at home, society, customary practices, to everything that surrounds you on the land most especially the native environment. Ebiil Society’s main goal and objective was to educate the young about their roots as being Palauan’s, while also reminding the adults caught up in modern day ways of living, that they still have their own native culture that defines their ultimate identity, that being Palauan.

Every year for the past ten years, Ebiil Society has hosted summer camps that include several different phases during the summer. The different camps were categorized for different ages, and this summer consisted of three different camps. The first camp was the knowledge camp held in Nagrchelong, one of the provinces in Palau and was designated for kids aging from 8-14. The camp consisted of daily field trips that included snorkeling, hiking, going to the taro patch, going fishing, camping out at the nearby rock islands, to studying each and every ecosystem found around the land they were on. This camp lasted for one very long and fun week!

The second camp was the navigation camp that lasted for two weeks, anyone above the age of eighteen was welcome to join the camp. All of the participants of the navigation camp also resided in Ngarchelong, where they had to stay out for a whole week studying stars, tides, moon, winds, and ways to voyage on a traditional canoe with Sesario, son of the famous Mau Piailuk. Mau Piailuk is very famous in Hawaii as he had taught the Hawaiian’s how to navigate with knowledge of the natural universe such as the stars, winds, moon, and tides without any technology whatsoever. During the second week of the navigation camp, all the students set out for sail with their instructor Sesario on his very own traditional canoe called Maisui, which was passed down to him by his father. During the one week out at sail, the voyaging students sailed from the Northern most tip of Palau’s big island also known as Ngarchelong down towards south of Palau to one of the rock islands called Ngermeaus.

Finally for the last phase of the different camps that Ebiil Society hosted, the diving camp! This camp instead took place in Koror, the more urban like part of Palau. This camp’s purpose was to certify ten counselors of the knowledge camp for free with the assistance of Sam’s tours. Ten brave counselors commuted to Sam’s tours from home, every day for one week to complete their dive certification and licensing as this was a day camp. By the end of the week they all had completed ther training, all passed the test, and got licensed! They were very pleased and grateful for this opportunity given to them by Ebiil Society.

Oh, I forgot to mention, I had a major role in all of this, I was the camp coordinator! I helped my fellow colleagues and boss, Valentino Kloulechad, put all of these activities together and made sure that they happened. My role included setting dates for activities, calling the different local instructors and setting dates where they had to come in to teach, writing letters to different companies and individuals for donations, puuting up camp flyers and giving out consent forms as well as collecting them, all of the good stuff. While working with Ebiil Society, I also learned a lot about the land, the ocean, all the many ecosytems, and the importance of each and every one of them. I had so much fun, that I had completely forgot that I had a actual role and position with the society, I felt like a camper too, learning all the amazing things taught at camp! This is pretty much it, and again, MAHALO NUI LOA or SULANG, PISC, RCUH, and HELP, for giving me such a great opportunity! 

My Adventures in the Marketing World

By Mary Cheung-Fuk
Marketing Intern, Blue Sky Communications
Pago Pago, American Samoa

This past summer I had the opportunity to intern at one of the biggest mobile phone provider, internet, and Cable Company in American Samoa. Bluesky Communications, the company I had a great experience interning for has been operating in American Samoa for the past 15 years providing my pacific island home with mobile phone services, internet, and American cable services. As a member of this company, our mission was to be innovative and passionate about everything we do, and committed to excellence in everything that we do. These three main pillars are the company’s foundation and what had constantly motivated me throughout my internship.

As a communication major interning in the marketing field with little real-life work experience, I was extremely nervous and excited to start on my internship. Despite all the nervousness and hesitation, I am grateful for this learning experience because not only has it given me real work experience, it has also enhanced my work skills, made me feel more comfortable and ready for future jobs, and I also learned new things about myself and my job preferences.

Working for the Bluesky marketing team requires a lot of work, good computer and communication skills as well as the ability to work diligently and effectively under a heavy work load and under pressure. Our work atmosphere would be very busy and tense at times considering that we were only a 5-woman team that dealt with sponsorships, product and promotion analysis, forming new promotions, training the staff on new promotions, event planning, running the company’s Facebook page, creating advertisements and marketing strategies to stay in the lead of competition as well as many other tasks. Although I did not have the expertise in these areas, I was able to shadow and observe the amount of work it took to complete these tasks. Many times my coworkers would also have to pull overtime just to meet the set deadlines.

In addition to my first time experience in a business environment, one of the skills that I was really content on learning was how to use Microsoft Excel including the formulas, filter, and graphs etc. I had the opportunity to compile data and analyze consumer responses based on the surveys that were passed out and I thought it was a really neat thing. Learning this skill has made me feel more confident in my abilities to work in an office and has prepared me for future jobs.

My whole HELP internship in general has been a great eye-opening experience and there were many firsts for me during my internship. Writing a resume, waking up early to go to work, being in an office, going out for lunch, learning new skills and how businesses operate were all firsts that have shaped my outlook on careers. I have realized that going to work for 8 hours a day, 5 times a week can be tiring and dreadful at times but it is a part of growing up and making sacrifices to earn a living. I have also learned many new things about myself including the fact that I prefer more hands on work and interacting and helping people than office work. I was not used to sitting at a computer for prolonged hours but it is what many people in offices do.

Although there would be times where I would feel tired or would want to go to the beach because it was summer, I persevered and had a good internship, met new people, made friends along the way, enhanced my work skills and was a part of a company that served the community with warm intentions. I thank the HELP program for allowing me this opportunity to gain hands on experience and I will definitely use these skills and experience to find a job that is suitable for me.

HELPing New Students Build Community

By: Paige Blelas
Program Assistant, Summer Bridge Program 2014
Hilo, Hawaii

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to work under the HELP program as a Program Assistant for the Pacific Islander Summer Bridge 2014. My summer was well-spent with some great people because I got to be a part of the Summer Bridge along with the best staffs and participants. At first, I felt more nervous than I was excited. I kept thinking to myself of how the program will end up and how the students will react to it. As the students began to arrive one by one and I got to know them, my anxiety went away. I was able to have so much fun as we get to know each of the students and where they come from. At the beginning of the program, we had a short delay due to Hurricane Iselle so we all had to stay at the dorms. I thought of it as a great way for the students to bond with each other, so they won’t feel awkward towards each other. It was also a chance for us staffs to know more about the students. It was our duty to make them feel welcome and have them get over feeling homesick. It was a really great experience for me to meet new people.

During my experience, one thing that I would have made different was to encourage all the students to be more enthusiastic and to participate more in the program. I saw that they were uncomfortable to jump out of their comfort zones. However, I understood that were having a hard time coping to the new environment and people; therefore, I tried helping them ease up and just try to have fun since it is summer. Although they had a slow start, I was very glad of how they managed to set everything aside and participate in the program. They started out shy, but they all turned out to be very outgoing people who I now call friends.

Another aspect of the experience is the part where we sat altogether and share stories of one another. I thought that since they are still new and we haven’t reached the level to be very into depth of each other, they wouldn’t tell us certain things about themselves, their families, and their lives. But they all took me by surprise because they shared with all of us some very deep stories that I myself would not be able to share with others. I felt honored and privileged to be a part of the program mainly because of that. It was a wonderful feeling that we were able to earn the students’ trust. I had so much respect for each and every one of them.

I would say my overall experience as a Summer Bridge staff had a very positive outcome. I made many new friends, learned a lot about different cultures, looked back on why I came to UH Hilo, and most of all, I worked well with my teammates to make the best out of the program. At the beginning, some of us were still very uncomfortable to speak their mind, but as we started the program, we all learned to accept one another and to never judge anyone. We, the staffs, were able to communicate with each other like we have known each other for so long. The bond we shared was the key to making the Summer Bridge Program as exciting as it could ever get. It was a great experience and I am glad to have been a part of it, along with the other staffs, the participants, and our supervisors. Hopefully, I get to be one of the staffs for next Summer Bridge. Thank you and God bless.

HELPing in Telecommunications

By: Seulata Masina
IT Intern, MIS Department
Bluesky Communication, Nuuuli

Bluesky Communication is known for being the leading provider of Wireless Mobile, Internet, Cable TV, and almost all technology devices in American Samoa. It provided me with so much experience, beyond my expectations as well. I am studying Sociology and being introduced into technical world was a challenge. I had never thought I would be in this world yet at the same time it was quite an experience. This HELP placement has driven be back to when I had my first computer experience in third grade where then I became interested with how technology works. On my first day, I was reminded again with a few things I learned from third grade and a semester back in college through an Information Computer Technology course. This 2 months program has given me the hands-on experience as well as approaching the customers with related technology issues.

Bluesky’s mission is: “To be Innovative in everything we do. To be Passionate about everything we do. To be Committed to Excellence in everything we do.” The keywords: innovative, passionate, and commitment brings out the best this phone company has ever provide for American Samoa. The atmosphere and the relationship within the working place brings the company together. I was only granted the opportunity to work in the Management Information Technology (MIS) Department.

Throughout my HELP placement, I was introduced to another department called the Customer Service Center (CSC). The CSC Department alongside with the Retail Sale Service (RSS) Department are the hands of the company, providing and approaching customer’s needs. The MIS Department is the backbone and the brains of the company. As a HELPer, I have learned and absorbed so much information within my first two weeks. My interest and passion in learning about this technology information have grown in me that I started volunteering 4 extra hours after my required hours to learn more about these technology issues and their solution.

I had limited access to other sites of the company due to my requirements and the length of my placement, so I gained more experiences from my second workstation at the receptionist desk. I started learning the hardware and everything the MIS deals with; from mobile devices to internet service, routers, modems to cable TV. As a customer, I have had technology issues with my handset. I used this opportunity to address my issues, and one by one, they were resolved; and every solution was a lesson to learn. Every day was a learning experience, from fixing phones, configuring routers, rebooting modems, installing mobile internet service in the office to encountering customers and walking them through the process or explaining to them the issue that they have with their devices as well as what causes it to finding solution in fixing it.

The HELP placement was such a great learning experience, personally, that I felt the urge to stay and be a part of the company permanently. It was one for the books and I would recommend it to anyone who is willing to experience this great position as well.

HELPing New Students Adjust to College

By Summer Saunders
Program Assistant, Summer Bridge Program 2014
Hilo, Hawaii

People tend to overlook the reality that some things, situations and behaviors can be perceived in such various ways depending on the observers. We do not often realize that sometimes, or most of the time, our perception of things is not the only “correct” way of viewing things. Each person was molded uniquely by several factors including one’s upbringing, culture and the society – so with all the distinctive individualistic backgrounds, the assumption that one particular vision or observation of things being a “correct” is not much of an educated theory. We have to be open-minded and be aware that we are not always right and should not rush to make judgment; doing the opposite only displays ignorance and narrow-mindedness of an individual. This, I believe, is what Summer Bridge programs are meant to oppose and to educate others the contrary. During the 2014 Pacific Islander Summer Bridge, working as a program assistant, I learned a lot from my fellow team members and the participants and I surely cherish every moment I had with them.

This summer bridge event is for helping students get familiar with Hilo, the university and the cultural differences so that the school year will come a bit easier for them to focus on their goals and purposes. Even though they were just eleven students, it was extremely meaningful to learn and share with these new faces to Hilo. At first, I was a bit discouraged knowing that we would have such a small group but after just a couple of days, it made no difference. Personally, I enjoy meeting new people and making new friends, especially if they come from different cultures because there is just more to discover that I did not know. All the participants had unique characters and personalities and it was just so much fun getting to know each other. Of course it is very great that we help them get familiarized with campus offices, dates, and the school system but I think the most special part of it is building new relationships with other people and learning about them. One aspect of the entire program I really liked was media team’s responsibility – the “What’s Your Story?” interview. I did not expect such open, true and deep responses from the whole team and that really just opened my eyes and went straight to my heart. And all of it is also used to combat stereotyping of “Micronesians” and to promote public awareness of the social justice we, as human beings, deserve.

I truly believe this experience that HELP was so grateful to add me into is an experience that is greatly related to my educational purpose and I will forever cherish it. In my classrooms, I have been reading and discussing them, and finally I was able to learn it “on the field,” the sociological field. Helping fellow members of an oppressed group in such a foreign-dominated society has been an honor for me and I promise that this will not be the end of my learning process.

All in all, I am thankful to be part of the 2014 Pacific Islander Summer Bridge Program through the generous help of HELP. We might have been part of it to teach and to show them around, but I certainly learned a lot from them. It was a mutual learning process for all sides and it has enhanced my understanding and love for my educational purpose.

HELPing at the Women’s Center

By Tiana Wai
Intern, Women’s Center at UH Hilo
Hilo, Hawaii

My name is Tiana Wai, a senior pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Communication with a certificate in Business. I have learned a lot of things while participating in the Highly Engaged Learning Position (HELP) placement at the UH Hilo Women’s Center under supervision of Coordinator Hannah Wu.

Our goal was to put together a needs based survey that focused on Asian Pacific Islanders and their transition to UH Hilo as a student. The title of the survey was labeled API Needs Based Survey, which was inclusive to all API students, and consisted of questions that focused on student’s level of understanding with resources available on campus, gender identity, cultural acceptance and overall experiences with University life. The survey has definitely been through a level of stages to fit the goals of reaching the correct information needed to be gathered. Some questions are still in its final stages of editing to offer the right focus on what we hope students would be honest to share.

What I have learned about the people in the Asian Pacific Island region is that it is comprised of variety of culturally diverse people. I grew up in American Samoa and was unaware of the neighboring islands that were also considered Pacific Islanders. For example, the beautiful region of the Micronesian islands has its own culture that I was not exposed to know about. Our cultures are similar, but uniquely different, and offer a greater view of the diverse areas in the Pacific Region.

The culture in the workplace, in the Women’s Center, is very diverse and unique itself. Personally, I identify as a Heterosexual Polynesian Female working to educate the UH Community about culture that is represented from a Social Justice perspective. Culture refers to the values, norms, and traditions that affect the way a member of a group typically perceives, thinks, interacts, behaves, and makes judgments. It even affects perceptions of time, which can impact day-to-day scheduling and deadlines.

What is important in understanding culture in a workplace is cultural competence. It is the ability to interact effectively with people from different cultures. This ability depends on awareness of one’s own cultural worldview, knowledge of other cultural practices and worldviews, tolerant attitudes towards cultural differences, and cross-cultural skills. Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures, and work with varying cultural beliefs and schedules.

The Women’s Center allows you to be able to engage with people from different cultural backgrounds such as: gender, sex, sexual identity, religion and ethnic culture. I have learned to be more engaged to working with students who are culturally different and have gained more awareness about their background to work more effectively together and have an inclusive climate.

Some of the important issues that are addressed to the Women’s Center are empowering others. Some examples of these issues are hosting events that address issues on Domestic Violence, Racism, and Discrimination. Working at the Women’s Center, through my research, has allowed me to report and research all the needs that are met and unmet to provide a more inclusive environment for our Asian Pacific Islander Students who need our help.

HELPing Immigrants at Catholic Charities

By Waerin Edwin
Intern, Catholic Charities – Immigration Resource Center
Hilo, Hawaii

As a HELPer, my goals as a student for field placement was set to work on a variety of task and see firsthand how they will benefit the community. Second, I wanted to develop professional skills by working with a target population of interest which was to serve both the immigrant and migrant group on the Big Island. Also, I was interested in providing direct services to a diverse group of clients at the Catholic Charities Hawaii (CCH) and develop an understanding and familiarity with the services and programs provided within the agency. In addition, I hoped to gain experience working one-on-one with CCH clients and conduct intake assessments according to the CCH program guidelines and policies.

The goal of my HELP placement was to assist all immigrants and migrants who came in to the Immigration Resource Center for a better understanding on how to access services in their new community. As immigrants and migrants who have just newly entered into a new place their culture understanding and English language skills is very limited. My role was to provide them a helping hand, so that they may feel and become more stable and hopefully become more self-sufficient. As Sociology major, I’m always interested in learning about the issues and social problems in our modern society as well as finding the solutions. In order to gain a perspective on how the social world works I decided to engage with people that face social issues in my community concerning inequality, poverty, education, ethnicity and race relations. Many of the clients I had worked with at the Immigration Resource Center with the Catholic Charities were dealing with a social issue dealing with their socio-economic status, race, and or culture. I was fortunate to have work with the organization and its clients; for I took away many useful experiences which have helped me grow as better person. I feel that the experience has enhanced my working skills and experiences for the field of Social work. In the future, I hope to work with the Micronesian community most especially with a social service program designed specifically for at-risk teens.

I felt accepted and comfortable in my work setting throughout my internship. I had been shadowing Achun, who is the IRC program specialist as she met with clients. Also, I was able to sit in with Achun as she met with clients who often disclose their personal information and complicated situations. I learned a lot about the importance of confidentiality. I often worked with walk-in clients who were seeking assistance with creating job resumes. Many of these clients were from the Federated States of Micronesia. I observed that many of them were young adults. The youngest client I had ever worked with was a recent high school graduate from the Federated States of Micronesia. The client was only 18 years old. My learning objects were met through hard work and patience. More importantly, I had very supportive and encouraging supervisors. Linda Spencer and Achun Niro taught me a lot in two short months. In addition, I was comfortable in my settings. I was able to work with little supervision and get my work done. I was surrounded by professionals that were patient and helpful throughout my learning experience during my practicum. The most challenging project or situation was working with Micronesian adults.

As a Micronesian descent, I know of the cultural boundaries between the younger people and older men and women, so I was not confident working with the older clients; however, Achun Niro had advised me that the only important thing that I should only be worried about is how I may be able to better assist the clients. It was helpful to have Achun Niro present as one of my supervisors, for she is Micronesian as well. It was very helpful to have a supervisor who shared the same culture. In fact, Achun knew more about the people, culture and language than I did, so whenever I was not sure about something I would ask Achun for help concerning the Micronesian clients, most especially the Chuukese clients that I worked with.

HELPing Botany Research

By Pauleen Fredrick
Research Assistant, UH Manoa
Honolulu, Hawaii

I applied for the Highly Engaged Learning Position (HELP) to develop my skills in leadership and to experience the work of professionals. Working with researchers or professionals had given me a glimpse of what it’s like to be a researcher as well as what techniques or methods to consider. During my internship, I really learned a lot about the project that I was assigned. Being a HELPer enabled me to experience new research methods such as doing molecular or morphological analysis. I became more interested in my project after attending the Hawaii Conservation Conference (HCC) for 3 days and the high school outreach program my mentor instructed. As part of the outreach program, I shadowed my mentor, Emily Johnston (graduate student), to learn more about identifying and characterizing algae species. By attending the HCC conference, I was able to observe and communicate with other professional researchers from different organizations. The HCC experience also deepened my vision of my future career as well as exposed me to different opportunities that could get me to where I wanted to be.

My HELP placement as a Research Assistant at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Botany Department, not only informed my career ambitions as a researcher, but also deepened my understanding of phycology (study of algae) and its significance in the Hawaiian society. The ten weeks of research were an incredibly unique experience and I’m really glad to have found a project that I’m interested in studying. I felt my interests differed significantly from my research supervisor and mentor as well as the graduate students’ dissertations or project discussions. I was given an individual project about a terrestrial algae growing on surfaces of any substrata such as trees, rocks, benches or etc. Because this was an individual project, I was able to design my own experiments or perform tests that could determine why the species occurs in these conditions and its relation to the marine ecosystem. However, to get answers about the species environmental preferences, I performed both molecular and morphological analyses looking at species genetic and physical characteristics to identify species and also characterize its environment. Doing these set of analyses (molecular and morphological), I gained experience using different laboratory equipment, conducting molecular protocols , and generating phylogenetic trees that identified the relationship between the different species I collected.

Overall I have learned far more through my internship than I could fit in this page limit. Having the opportunity to work with experts and get to learn their tricks on how they carry out their work, is more valuable than reading about a topic in class. I am really excited to continue my learning experience through job shadowing or working as a laboratory assistant at the Marine science department this semester.