Honolulu CC alumna Hilary Brown

By Steffanie Sobitz

Hilary Brown, a member of Honolulu CC’s Career Services office, started out her college career like many of us – unsure, but hopeful about the future. Like so many students going through the motions of high school, she needed direction and support in order to get started and be successful.

“Growing up I never really thought about college. It wasn’t on my radar until maybe 11th grade. By then I had made a lot of mistakes, and hadn’t pushed myself hard enough. I didn’t even know about community colleges,” Brown admitted.

“In my last two quarters in high school I discovered the COP (College Opportunities Program) at Mānoa through a college counsellor at Moanalua High School,” she said. COP is a program that helps students who are at high-risk for not attending college; the program supports those students transition into college. As part of the program, students live in the dorms and are not allowed to have a job. The focus is college preparation; there is a lot of structure and not a lot of time for anything besides school.

Brown started college classes at UH Mānoa through the COP program, but had difficulty adjusting. “For me, it was a struggle to balance school and my home life. My grandmother was getting sick, so I had to struggle to get home during the week and on the weekends. The school is so huge that I didn’t know what the resources were and kind of fell through the cracks,” Brown explained. She had a lot going on in her life, but continued her studies as long as she could.

“For me, I made it to my third year and my grandma passed away. I fell into a deep depression and dropped out of school, not realizing I could have taken a medical leave,” she said.

“I worked for a year and a half, but I always knew I wanted to go back and finish my degree.”  After my withdrawal, I also owed the school money, which was another hindrance to me going back,” Brown recalled.

Though it was tough to get back into the school mind set and working out the financial details, Brown decided to plunge headfirst in pursuit of her degree. “I went back fall of 2007… At Honolulu Community College is when I began the long journey to reach a time when I could pass calculus. After failing my return semester at UH Mānoa, I decided to go the Community College, and Honolulu Community College is the school I chose. Mainly because of its location,” she said.

Like many students, Hilary had trouble getting through her math classes. “Without math teachers like F. Tamakawa & F. Mauz I would have never made it through Math 24, Math 25, & Math 103,” she said.  While at Honolulu CC, her favorite instructor was Brenda Kwon. “After taking her English 22 class I fell in love with her teaching style and her connection to her students. I took many English courses and through that she helped me find and refine my voice in my writing. She had some excellent assignments, and always made us questions, think, and respond with our authentic voice,” Brown recalled.

When she started at Honolulu CC, she had been considering a degree in accounting. She had really enjoyed accounting classes, and imagined herself working in an accounting firm, loving the structure and rules of the discipline, but a job with Student Life at Honolulu CC changed her career path. “Well I didn’t really think about a job in higher education when I first started, but the longer I was with Student Life, the more I fell in love with helping students…Whether it was pointing them to the right building or correct office. It is very different than what I would be doing in an accounting firm – alone crunching numbers all day,” said Brown.

“Most of my best moments are when working as a Student Assistant with Student Life & Development. We got the chance to work with many different offices, and we were asked to create from conception to completion many events for students. The best of times for me are when we hosted New Student Orientation. It was a great pleasure to meet incoming students in person, and to share all of the resources and opportunities that await them here at Honolulu CC,” Brown explained. 

“[A] defining choice that changed the course of my future was working at the Student Life & Development Office under the direction of Emily Kukulies. It was through my work with Student Life I was able to learn so much about Honolulu CC and its great resources. It also became evident to me in my last year of school that I loved helping students, and I loved working at Honolulu CC.” She found her niche and after graduating with her BA from UH Mānoa, she began her job with Career Services at Honolulu CC. 

When asked what advice she has for current and prospective students Brown said, “Take advantage of internships or some type of job shadowing program, so that you get hands on knowledge of what a day is like for someone in the profession that you are getting your degree in. It was unfortunate in my case that I took internships in my last semester only to discover being a full time accountant wasn't what I truly wanted in my life.” 

She offered two other pieces of invaluable advice.

First, “I know that we all have bills to pay, and making money is fabulous, but I learned that no matter the amount I am making I need to be passionate about what I am doing,” she said.  Second, “Do your absolute best in every job no matter how big or small because you never know when another opportunity or a person you assisted could play a pivotal role in your future in some fashion or form.” 

And when asked what three words come to mind when she thinks of Honolulu CC, Brown replied, “We are Honolulu - I really love this slogan because every single student, faculty, staff, and member of our community is what makes this a great place to begin your education or your career.”

Steffanie Sobitz wrote this story while a student in Honolulu CC’s Journalism 205, News Writing class.

University of Hawai‘i Alumni