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How BYU–Hawaii prepared these 3 alumni for postgraduate achievements

BYU–Hawaii President John S.K. Kauwe III congratulated three alumni who received doctoral degrees during BYU’s recent graduation in Provo

Last week, BYU–Hawaii President John S.K. Kauwe III posted on Instagram about his opportunity to attend BYU’s College of Life Sciences convocation in Provo, Utah.

President Kauwe — who was a professor, department chair and dean at BYU before becoming president of the Church’s seaside university — shared his delight in finding that the first three doctoral degree graduates at the convocation are BYU–Hawaii alumni.

In offering congratulations to Tava’ilau Segi, Justina P. Tavana and Rebeka Greenall, President Kauwe wrote, “There’s no doubt you three will continue to be the leaders that President David O. McKay prophesied about.”

BYU–Hawaii News later caught up with the three former Seasiders to ask how their time at BYU–Hawaii helped prepare them for future success.

Segi, a native Samoan, graduated from BYU–Hawaii in 2017 with a degree in marine biology. At BYU, he focused on conservation biology with an emphasis on coral reefs. He hopes to collaborate with governments and other entities to restore marine ecosystems crucial to Oceania’s cultures, people and nations. 

His time at BYU–Hawaii as an undergrad, Segi said, helped propel him forward. “I worked with great professors in the science department who saw the potential I didn’t see in myself.”

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Tavana graduated from BYU–Hawaii with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2003. As an alumna speaker at President Kauwe’s inauguration in 2021, she referred to herself as “a Samoan scientist.” The biology Ph.D. graduate has been using her fluency in Samoan, English and Tongan to collect DNA samples and develop diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s disease in Pacific Islanders. 

She recently told BYU Magazine that her goal is to “[bring] families together and [try] to figure out how we can … work together and overcome this horrible disease.”

Soon-to-be graduates listen as Brigham Young University President Kevin J Worthen speaks at the university’s commencement in the Marriott Center in Provo on Thursday, April 27, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

President Kauwe, who is an internationally recognized researcher specializing in Alzheimer’s disease genetics, has served as a mentor. While at BYU–Hawaii, Tavana said, she experienced many moments that defined her spiritual and professional growth. She attributes her success to the invaluable knowledge, experiences and relationships gained during her time at BYU-Hawaii. 

Doctoral graduate Greenall, from Bozeman, Montana, graduated from BYU–Hawaii with a bachelor’s in biology and a minor in biochemistry in 2017. Since then, Greenall has utilized her interest in conservation education and helped develop a curriculum that educates Pacific Islanders about climate change. In her bio for the biology department, she says, “Conservation science fascinates me and utilizing education to teach about conservation principles is my passion.”

Greenall told BYU–Hawaii News: “What an incredible experience representing BYU–Hawaii in such a cool way. ... Grateful to be part of the Seasider family.”

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