BLOG: An internship reflection by Rachel Aquino (Summer Intern 2023)
Before the Covid-19 Pandemic changed the lives of everyone everywhere, I was content with simply being a mother of two young children, a supportive partner, and working as a bartender while the littles were at school. Then the lockdown happened, and it gave me the chance to really think about the direction I wanted the next stage of my life to go.
While I was furloughed from work and helping my children with homeschooling I decided to go back to school to earn my AA in Hawaiian Studies so that I could help my son who was just starting kindergarten as a Hawaiian Immersion student. I already held a BA in Psychology but returning to school almost two decades later was not an easy decision, it was something I needed to do if I wanted my child to thrive as a Hawaiian Language Learner. My daughter, an English Language Learner, was entering the fourth grade. So there the three of us were, going to school online all at the same time, learning different concepts, in different languages just trying to get by. As the world started to open up again I decided to apply for a job as an Educational Assistant at a high school here on Oʻahu. I landed in an English classroom with a teacher who taught tenth-grade inclusion English, twelfth-grade World Literature, and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). The teacher I assisted was so much more than an educator of our future leaders. She encouraged students to be their best selves, provided a safe place and space for them, and was a safe adult for any student to talk to if that was what was needed. It was in this classroom and working with this teacher that helped me decide in what direction I wanted to take my career. I decided to apply for the Master's Program at the Thompson School of Social Work at the University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa.
At the beginning of my first semester as an MSW student, I had what most people would call a very full plate. I was raising a family, working full-time during the day, going to school full-time during the evening, and expecting my third child. I have a great support system at home. Without them, none of this would be possible. During my second semester, I came across a newsletter that mentioned a Summer Internship Opportunity with Hau’oli Mau Loa Foundation that was open to Social Work students. Because of my work, I am lucky enough to have summers off and thought that a paid internship learning about new things would be a great way to spend some of my time.
The mission of Hauʻoli Mau Loa to bring hope to children and the future and to conserve and preserve our island home is very similar to my own personal mission. I have a passion for education and the wellbeing of our keiki here in Hawai’i and working with Hauʻoli Mau Loa was a great opportunity to work alongside like-minded people with the same goals. I interviewed with Keahi and Anela and I knew right from the start that the Foundation was a place that I would feel welcomed should I be awarded the summer internship position. Right before school was let out for the summer I got a call from Keahi letting me know that they thought I would be a great fit for the Foundation’s Summer Intern Position.
During the first staff meeting, and my second day as an intern, everyone was very welcoming and genuinely showed excitement to be working with me for the summer. Right from the start the vibe was one of family and close relationships. As I was introduced to the tight-knit group of staff I knew that I would fit right in. Although my position was classified as remote I was able to attend a staff meeting and lunch with Keahi, Anela, Brant, Olivia, and Janis.
I really enjoy learning and for my first task as an intern, I was asked to read up on philanthropy and grant funding. Hauʻoli Mau Loa Foundation uses a Trust-Based Philanthropy Model that values the relationships with its partners beyond just the funding. The Foundation strives to build trusting relationships with its partners so that there can be open discussions about how the partner organization is doing, the wins and the losses, the difficulties and issues that come about in their programs, and more so how can Hauʻoli Mau Loa help in any of these areas.
Another task that I worked on was reviewing the Hauʻoli Mau Loa Foundation website. I got to explore the entire site and it was amazing how much information was available about the Foundation, its partners, its programs, and the history and Helga. My favorite part of the website was the Timeline and the Hope for Kids ʻEkahi and ʻElua pages.
I attended the Hawaiʻi Conservation Conference for the first time as a Foundation Intern. Even though I am not in the field of conservation there were many sessions, forums, and workshops that I found interesting and relatable to the field of Social Work. I really enjoyed looking at the posters and projects that students worked on. I got to meet with many professionals in the conservation field and learned about programs that my family and I could volunteer with to do our part in conservation.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend the REMS Hōʻike at Moku ʻo Loʻe. Hauʻoli Mau Loa is a grant provider for the program that encourages high school students interested in Marine Science to experience conducting research over the course of six weeks. I was very impressed by the many different research projects each group of students presented under the direction of a graduate student in the field. The boat ride to and from Moku ʻo Loʻe was very calming and I felt very lucky to be able to view the majestic scenery of Koʻolaupoko from out on the water.
My favorite project as a Summer Intern was interviewing and creating a write-up of former Hauʻoli Mau Loa Graduate Assistantships/Fellows. I was able to interview three former fellows and learned so much about what they are doing today for the environmental conservation field, the road they took to get to where they are today, and how the Hauʻoli Mau Loa Fellowship impacted their individual journeys. The best part about the interviews was hearing the advice that the former fellows would give to up-and-coming aspiring environmental conservation professionals. Keep an eye out for the Graduate Assistantship interview write-ups on the Foundation’s website.
As my time with Hauʻoli Mau Loa came to a close, I helped update the Green Jobs contact list which is an essential piece needed to help collect data on the environmental career pathways that are currently out there. I also worked on compiling a list of resources on the definition, programs, and curriculum of ʻāina-based education.
My time at Hauʻoli Mau Loa went by very quickly and seemed too short for me to leave. No task that I was given was alike to the next, and I felt that the work that I contributed to the Foundation this summer was important. As I sat on Zoom with the rest of the staff for a goodbye lunch, I couldn’t help but feel sad about not working alongside this great team. But I left knowing that, although my internship was coming to a close, the relationships that I started with Keahi, Anela, Brant, Olivia, and Janis were just beginning. I will always be able to reach out to any one of them and I hope to cross paths with the Foundation in the future, both professionally and personally. This summer I learned that the field of environmental conservation and ʻāina-based education is intertwined with the work I hope to do as a Social Worker focusing on policy in education with an emphasis on Native Hawaiian Culture. What started out as a summer internship that I had no idea what to expect, ended up being an experience that will be very valuable to my journey moving forward, and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of the Hauʻoli Mau Loa ʻohana.