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Treena Shapiro: An English major’s career path

Treena Shapiro graduated from UH Mānoa in 1999 with a BA in English. Since then, she has worked at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the Honolulu Advertiser, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. She works at the Hawaiʻi State Legislative Auditor’s office.

How has your UH education helped in your career?

Some people think majoring in English is a waste of time, but after 20 years as a professional writer and editor, I disagree. A degree isn’t the only value I got out of my time at UH; two campus jobs in particular helped open doors after graduation. I was a reporter and editor for UH’s student newspaper Ka Leo, which led to an internship immediately after graduation, and a job offer followed. I also worked as an editorial assistant for UH Press, which gave me a glimpse of what a career in publishing might look like. The skills I acquired through these student jobs have remained relevant throughout my career.

How did you get to the work you’re doing today?

I didn’t intend to go into journalism – as noted, it wasn’t even my major – but I was offered a job at a daily newspaper almost immediately after graduation and stayed with print journalism for 11 years, leaving the profession only after Honolulu became a one-newspaper town. I’m currently a writer for the state auditor’s office, but in between I worked in digital media, for a wire service, for public television, and in government communications. Immediately before moving to the auditor’s office, I was editor of Ka Wai Ola, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’s monthly newspaper.

Who would you say was your most influential mentor while in college?

I have to pick two because they both had a hand in where I am today. In alphabetical order: Jay Hartwell, the Ka Leo advisor who convinced me to apply for the newspaper internship that launched my career; and Craig Howes, the professor who taught some of my favorite classes and made me want to do work that I could be passionate about. Craig is also the reason I worked at UH Press.

How did you discover your interest in writing?

I was writing plays for my stuffed animals when I was in preschool, so it’s fair to say I’ve been interested in writing for longer than I can remember. I have to give credit to my mom, who started teaching me to read as a toddler.

What part of your work excites you most or gives you the most satisfaction?

I’ve done so many amazing things for work that I’d be embarrassed to list them, but late last year I took a job that eliminated most of the “exciting” stuff out of a deep desire to improve conditions for people who are impacted by the action (or inaction) of government. Having reported on public affairs for several years, and working as a public servant for a few more, I know government can do better. I’m satisfied if I can play at least a small part in helping that happen.

What advice would you give students to help them prepare for their career?

Don’t limit your learning to the classroom and don’t wait until after graduation to find out what it’s like to work in your chosen field. Use internships, campus jobs, clubs, and student services that allow you to apply what you’re learning in class. You should also get to know people in the field you’re planning to enter: attend networking events, talk to recruiters at job fairs, and maintain good relationships with students going into the same field because they may be part of your life for the next few decades.

Connect with Treena on UH Connect!

University of Hawai‘i Alumni