Alumni Stories

Being born and raised on the windward side, I always found it nice to be able to obtain my bachelor's degree in nursing while enjoying the beautiful scenery that the Hawaii Loa Campus had to offer. The convenience and serenity of the Hawaii Loa campus is what initially drew me into HPU. Truth be told, I have never been the best student, I always found test taking to be challenging for me. I quickly discovered that the professors were always eager to help and answer any questions I had. It was obvious that the teaching staff were very passionate about nursing and helping grow and foster the next generation of nurses. 

After graduating from HPU in May 2012, I worked as a nurse aid in the ER at Straub until I was fortunate enough to be hired to the behavioral health new grad academy at Adventist Health Castle.  I worked as a psych nurse for two years and eventually transferred to our emergency department where I have been working for almost two years now. I love the ER, I have always loved emergency medicine and I am so fortunate to work with an awesome team. 

-Kanoe Vermeesch Brandon, BSN Alumni 2012

Gini Mayehara, LSW, is a Licensed Social Worker at St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawai'i. She graduated with her MSW in 2011 and has been working in the field since graduating. Gini has a passion for working with the elderly and has seven years of experience working with this population. She finds that seniors have so much wisdom and insight to offer, and that they are a joy to work with. Gini visits the kupuna in their homes and connects them with various services in the community. She also provides them with education and discusses advance-healthcare planning, as well as long-term care planning with the client and their families.

Her advice for students would be to connect with as many people in school and in the community as possible. Networking is so vital. Social workers need to stand together! Students should make a list of self-care needs. Taking care of oneself and finding balance amongst school, work, practicum, family, friends, and extracurricular activities is very essential. We must take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. Seek professional help if need be. There is no shame in talking to a professional about any issues that arise. This is seen as a learning opportunity to grow personally and professionally. Finally, take your licensure exam upon graduating. Don't wait!

Desiree Tupas (Master of Public Health ‘18) was selected for the prestigious and competitive California Epidemiologic Investigation Service (Cal-EIS) Fellowship Program, which is designed to prepare epidemiologists for public health leadership positions in California. Beginning this summer, Tupas will work directly with an epidemiologist preceptor at the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) in Sacramento, California.

As a Cal-EIS fellow, Tupas’s main objective is to develop projects that entail performing analyses on data collected from California’s healthcare infrastructure. Her job duties will involve engaging in applied epidemiology to evaluate access to quality healthcare and to further understand the diverse needs of California’s healthcare systems.

“I am excited to be a Cal-EIS fellow for OSHPD because it’s a unique opportunity that will allow me to use my learned epidemiologic skills and background from HPU, to focus on various analysis projects that can contribute meaningfully to improving healthcare systems throughout California,” Tupas said.

While pursuing her MPH degree at HPU, Tupas completed a year-long student disease investigator position with the State of Hawaii Department of Health-Disease Investigation Branch. Tupas was part of the second cohort of the HPU Master of Public Health program. 

Starting my MSN at HPU was terrifying. I had not been in class for over 35 years. However within the first few classes, I became a part of compassionate group of nurses.  Everyone in our class seemed to merge into a wonderful group, sharing knowledge and experiences. The students were from so many different parts of the country and world. They also had a variety of nursing specialties among their backgrounds. Learning at HPU was a collaborative education that is unparalleled in many Universities.

My years at HPU gave me the confidence to seek out new career possibilities. I stopped thinking “ I can’t do that” and started thinking, “ I wonder how to do that.”I feel that my potential is endless, as long as I strive to seek on going knowledge.I am thankful for all of the guidance HPU has given to me through the amazing professors and passionate students.

-Kari Wilhite, APRN

2018 FNP Graduate

Name: Shelby Watkins, CPH

Degrees: Bachelor of Science, Health Science, HPU 2016

Master of Public Health: Health Management and Policy, Oregon Health and Science University - Portland State University School of Public Health, 2019

Certification: Certified in Public Health by the National Board of Public Health Examiners

Shelby Watkins currently works at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences located at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, OR. She is a Research Associate with Dr. Steven Shea and Dr. Nicole Bowles at the Clinical Physiology and Chronobiology Program. Her primary research has been in conducting a qualitative analysis of the impact of the work shift schedule of 24 hours on and 48 hours off on local firefighters. Shelby says "This has allowed me to build strong working relationships with the local firefighters and union members through focus groups, as well as better understand the health impacts firefighters are facing due to their work shift schedule. Recently our team received a pilot funding grant from the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center to compare two alternative work shift schedules among firefighters. This study will take into account both home and work priorities, as well as physiological measures to create a comprehensive assessment that hopefully may lead us in determining what is the healthiest work shift schedule for firefighters, and potentially other emergency workers." 

What I love about public health: My favorite thing about public health is that I get to help people on a macro level, instead of individually. This world is far too big and ever changing to not be thinking about health at the population level. I also love that public health allows me to focus on a population's "whole health", meaning I get to look at physical, mental, and social health and how that is impacting overall health and wellness, rather than on an individual concern. 

My experience at HPU: I ended up in public health by accident at HPU. I wanted to be a Physical Therapist, so I started off in the Biology-Human Health Sciences degree track, where I spent my first two years of undergrad. I then realized I didn't need all the crazy science and math classes to go to physical therapy school, so I switched to the Health Sciences degree track to finish out my degree. I guess the joke is on me, because I took Epidemiology and Health Education and I was hooked! I knew physical therapy would never be as rewarding as Public Health would be and I have to give it up to Dr. Christian Gloria, Kathleen Stofocik, MPH, and Dr. Emily Roberson from HPU for showing their passion for public health so greatly and creating ample opportunities to engage in health in the local community. I also loved that at HPU there were small class sizes that allowed me to have such personal working relationships with my public health instructors because they were able to provide me contacts to the community and wrote me wonderful graduate school recommendations and I still to this day feel very comfortable contacting them and asking for guidance or to say hello. I would have never received such personal attention if I had gone to a bigger university. 

Dr. Danielle Giroux is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Hawaii Pacific University. Originally from Ohio, Dr. Giroux graduated with her MSW from HPU in 2010. Following completion of her MSW she moved to Alaska to complete her PhD in Clinical-Community Psychology from the University of Alaska Anchorage. While in Alaska she worked on state wide suicide prevention efforts with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and completed her clinical internship with Norton Sound Behavior Health in Nome. After graduating with her doctorate in 2017 Dr. Giroux worked in Ohio as an assistant professor of social work and served as a regional director for the Ohio NASW. Dr. Giroux is licensed as an LSW in Hawaii and her clinical theoretical orientation is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Dr. Giroux’s dissertation and subsequent research has focused on sexual assault survivorship in rural areas. Dr. Giroux’s research interests include research interests include substance abuse prevention, suicide prevention and sexual assault prevention and post-vention. Dr. Giroux comes from a rural area and has experience providing clinical services and conducting research in rural areas. Dr, Giroux is currently a member of the Society for Community Research and Action Rural Interest group. Dr. Giroux is specifically interested in the intersection of these social issues and rural communities. In her free time Dr. Giroux enjoys hiking, snorkeling, and traveling.