Growing with Opportunity


Kuʻualohapauʻole Lau interned at OHA for four years while attending UH Mānoa. Lau graduated recently as a double major with her primary BA in communication and a secondary BA in journalism, and last month began a full-time position with a local public relations firm. She shares her experience about interning while attending college.

During my senior year of high school, I took an elective course that encouraged us to apply for colleges and internships. Without the help of that course, I wouldn’t have applied to UH or known how critical it was for me to seek out internships.

After graduating from high school, I was extremely nervous about transitioning into college. I knew I had the tools and skills needed to do well in college, but it was a whole new ball game, a whole new world that I still felt under-prepared for.

During the summer, I decided to look for a job that could help me feel more comfortable with my new academic journey at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. My mother encouraged me to apply for a student intern position at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) after seeing a Facebook post about the opportunity. At the time, I wasn’t very familiar with OHA and its purpose, but after researching more about the organization, I decided to apply for the position.

A few weeks later I was hired, and that was the beginning of my journey with the Digital and Print Media team at OHA.

I was very nervous but excited to have landed a paid internship opportunity as a freshman. I had a desk and my own iMac desktop, and I felt so professional and so grown up! It was exciting to have the opportunity with Digital and Print Media as well as with OHA’s Community Outreach team. I learned that a lot of their work overlapped and worked hand-in-hand to connect beneficiaries to potential resources and with their Hawaiian heritage.

At UH Mānoa, I attended school from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. and then headed over to OHA’s office on Nimitz Highway until about 4 p.m. With a full-time school schedule, I was able to have flexible working hours at OHA. I never felt overwhelmed or overworked because initially, I was doing minor work and shadowing and listening in on meetings. I felt welcomed by my co-workers and observed their work ethic and skills. I had a lot to learn, and I was a sponge; I wanted to soak up as much as possible.

As an intern I worked on numerous projects. I have done voice-overs for videos and multiple social media projects; I’ve created a video to tell stories about Native Hawaiian beneficiaries; I’ve worked on the Ka Wai Ola newspaper writing articles and news briefs and creating the monthly crossword and calendar; and I have designed graphics for social media and promotions.

Everything I was learning at UH went hand-in-hand with my projects at OHA. It was a privilege to learn from two streams and be able to use what I learned interchangeably between the two.

In the past four years, so much has happened – not to mention the transition from in-person learning and working to going completely online during the pandemic. It was a rough adjustment, personally. I at first liked the idea of finishing classes online. Then last summer, as I prepared for my final fall semester, I suddenly lost the motivation that I once had for completing my senior year of college.

Luckily, I was able to have a hybrid course which allowed me to still meet with my class in person. It helped me gain some personal interaction and helped me focus in real-time in front of real people, not strictly over Zoom.

As the 2021 spring semester started, there were times I felt frustrated, unmotivated, and exhausted – but there was a light at the end of the tunnel! I was on my way to graduating with only a few months left; I knew I could hold on, finish my work, and be prepared for the real world.

My experience at OHA has taught me how to be ready, how to collaborate, how to communicate, and how to tell stories through various media. I have built so many networks and connections because of this opportunity. All of my co-workers and managers have been so supportive of me. Working at OHA has given me a head start in the communications field and has allowed me to practice my journalism skills.

I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have the chance to serve my lāhui. It amazes me that I contributed to supporting Native Hawaiian beneficiaries by helping to tell stories that highlight strong individuals.

I am a firm believer in “everything happens for a reason.” And with that, I believe that I was allowed to serve my community and attend a school rooted in our community. It all came together like a puzzle. I can’t wait for my next journey!

One chapter in my life has ended, and I’m ready to start writing a new one.