Kaawa-Gonzales Awarded Prestigious Scholarship
Molokai’s own Kiloaulani Kaawa-Gonzales has been named a national recipient of the Truman Scholarship, a highly competitive federal award given to juniors in college for their leadership potential and public service commitment. Kaawa-Gonzales, a 2014 Molokai High graduate, was previously announced as a finalist for the honor. Now, he’s become one of 62 college juniors around the country to receive a $30,000 scholarship to a graduate school of their choice from The Truman Foundation.
Kaawa-Gonzales, currently studying at Colorado State University, was one of two recipients from that school. The two thought they were meeting with a CSU alumnus regarding undergraduate scholarships. But they were surprised to meet instead with the college’s president and vice president, who gave them the good news.
“I want to be an advocate for people who have no seat at the table,” said Kaawa-Gonzales, who is pursuing a degree in natural resources and conservation. “A lot of Native people are really knowledgeable, have lived in Hawaii their entire lives and work for natural resources agencies, but are never able to obtain that managerial or supervisory role due to the lack of a degree. I want to bridge that gap and collaborate between these two different sides of natural resources, to make that a ‘thing,’ that you can be a Native person and also get a degree.”
Ethan Billingsley, director of undergraduate programs in the Warner College of Natural Resources, called Kaawa-Gonzales a natural leader.
“Kilo is a very happy and outgoing guy,” he said. “Once you get to know him, you discover that he is as motivated and passionate about natural resources as he is personable. His work ethic, positive attitude and inquisitiveness will help him in graduate school and his conservation goals in Hawaii.”
As part of the program, Kaawa-Gonzales will attend a weeklong leadership training session this summer with other winners from across the country, and will have the opportunity to complete an internship in Washington, D.C.
He plans to pursue his graduate studies at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, and is grateful for the opportunity the Truman Scholarship affords.
“It’s definitely a process that took years to get to this place,” he said. “I am really grateful. Everyone’s contributions make a difference, people who believe in you and spread your name around, it’s really a blessing.”