Ryan Ozawa received his bachelor of arts degree in journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and now serves as Communications Director at Hawaii Information Service, a tech company specializing in real estate applications and data. Ryan also covers science, technology, startups, entrepreneurship and the arts for a variety of outlets, including KITV, Hawaii News Now, Hawaii Public Radio, Civil Beat, and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. He recently co-founded Kahanu LLC., a volunteer-based, grant-funded, independent grass-roots organization dedicated to designing, manufacturing, and donating emergency bridge ventilators to hospitals to address critical care medical equipment shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We asked Ryan a few questions about his time at UH, what he's doing now and what advice he would give to students to help them prepare for their career.
How has your UH education helped you in your career?
It took me nine years to earn a four-year degree, in part because I became a dad my junior year. Fortunately UH and my many instructors were flexible and patient, and I eventually graduated accidentally (I got a call halfway through another semester telling me I was actually done). My time at UH aligns with several years of uncertainty and stress, but it was always a sanctuary where I could focus on improving myself. While I may have forgotten many of the specific lessons and facts I that was taught, the UH community and overall experience were very important to helping me mature and become a productive member of the community. Or at least somewhat productive.
Describe your career path. How did you end up doing the work you’re doing today?
Though it goes against most professional advice, I count the start of my professional career back to my student jobs. From working as a webmaster for a business program to helping with IT at UH Press to editing Ka Leo, the campus newspaper. The combination of technical and writing skills I honed were how I got recruited to my first real job at an international trade association. Then to a bank, where I handled internet banking as well as information security. And now to my current job, Communications Director at Hawaii Information Service, a local tech company. While my degree is in Journalism, I've never worked in the field. But those skills easily translated to business skills, and I can still pretend to be a journalist on my days off.
What do you love most about your work?
I've been fortunate to have been recruited into the jobs I've had, and thus working for companies that knew they wanted to work with me. And despite the cliche, it has always been the people that have motivated me in my work. My current company, Hawaii Information Service, is a small but mighty tech company holding its own and writing its own destiny, despite being surrounded by much larger firms and tech giants. And we push forward because we believe in what we do, and we believe in our leadership. The line between professional and personal is all but a blur as we care for each other and go above and beyond for coworkers as much as for the company. And I'm lucky that my employer puts up with my periodic flights of fancy and involvement in community projects, a luxury not every employee has.
Who would you say was your most influential mentor while in college?
There are so many, and I feel like I'll give offense for everyone I leave off the list. For a top three, there was Robin Gould, the first editorial advisor I worked with at Ka Leo. There was Sharon Ishida, the secretary at the UH School of Journalism who very patiently and persistently finally wrangled me into the program that I resisted for years. There was Beverly Keever, who taught public affairs reporting, and gave me my love of public records and enterprise investigative reporting that still drives me today.
Pictured: Ryan and his wife Jennifer, whom he met at UH Hilo in 1994. They are now proud parents of three crazy kids, one of which is already a UH graduate.
What advice would you give students to help them prepare for their career?
If you land a career in your area of study, consider yourself very lucky. But if you don't, you're still lucky, provided you find your work to be challenging and rewarding. Nobody should go to college looking for a boring 9-5. If you take the time to explore various disciplines at UH, and scratch every itch that arises, your chances of finding a career you like are much higher. And you'll be able to find meaning in any job.