University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu alum and former employee Natalie Perez recalls how her experiences at UH West Oʻahu helped contribute to her many accomplishments — the most recent of which was being selected as one of the 2020 Learning Guild Thirty Under 30.
The esteemed Thirty Under 30 program recognizes young professionals who embody the knowledge, skills, and drive needed by today’s modern learning leaders, and provides visibility, voice, and development for the next generation of learning leaders.
A Ph.D. student in the College of Education Department of Learning Design and Technology at UH Mānoa, Perez earned a bachelor’s degree from UH West Oʻahu, where she previously served as the online learning and support coordinator.
“UH West Oʻahu has made one of the biggest impacts on my life and career journey,” said Perez, now a senior instructional designer and program manager at Amazon.
Perez was selected to be part of the Thirty Under 30 cohort after meeting criteria such as contribution to and leadership in the learning and development profession, career history and progress, thought leadership, and alignment with the Learning Guild core values.
Other emerging leaders from this year’s list come from countries including Italy, Australia, Ireland, Germany, United Arab Emirates, and the Netherlands, and work for organizations such as the Kellogg Company, Adobe, and Department of Homeland Security.
ʻCountless enriching experiences’ at UH West Oʻahu
Perez said the time she spent at UH West Oʻahu, as a student and an employee, played a big role in her various achievements, including her recent selection to the program, her job at Amazon, and the local non-profit program she founded.
“It’s challenging to briefly describe my time at UH West Oʻahu because I’ve had countless enriching experiences that have helped to grow and shape me into the person I am and the career choices I’ve made,” she said.
Being a student in the Humanities division (Perez also volunteered as the Humanities club president) spurred her interest in writing, and her English and History classes built her analytical and creative skills, she said.
“I was asked to consider becoming a writing tutor, and I agreed to it,” Perez said. “Joining the Noʻeau Center was one of the best choices I’ve made. Not only did I love being a student worker, but I discovered a hidden passion for education.”
Perez said supporting, encouraging, and assisting her peers was incredibly satisfying. Those formative experiences as a tutor and being mentored by Dr. Lokelani Kenolio (now Director of Enrollment Services) helped to shape her career path. After graduating, Perez was hired as a staff member at the No’eau Center.
“Dr. Kenolio encouraged me to experiment, explore, and not be afraid of failure,” Perez said. “Her guidance and mentorship cultivated new ideas for tutoring in the online environment.”
Having taken a large amount of online classes, Perez said she really had a heart for distance education students.
“Online learning can easily become isolating without a strong support group and I wanted to try to, as much as possible, replicate the same sense of belonging that students and myself experienced within our campus-based Noʻeau Center,” she said.
Through Kenolio’s support, Perez was able to take the university’s tutoring services to the next step by offering innovative ways for students to receive tutoring asynchronously and synchronously online.
“With the help of Rebecca Carino, Dr. Robin Tasaka, Kaʻiuliani Akamine, and others, we worked closely with our tutors to transition more and more services online,” Perez said. “I built a website — major thanks to John Ly, Brian Miyamoto and the entire IT crew — and worked collaboratively with our tutoring, testing, and academic support services to offer increased access to resources like tutoring handouts, IMs, and online synchronous workshops. We collaborated with Carina Chernisky to start the RAW: Research and Writing series, which continues to assist students in their writing journey at UH West Oʻahu.”
In addition to collaborations with the library, Perez said she also worked with academic advisors to identify ways to increase online services to new or continuing students, among collaborations with many other departments and initiatives throughout the university.
Perez said all of these experiences have transcended to her current role: “From programming to relationship building to designing educational experiences to evaluation, my experiences at UH West Oʻahu have been instrumental to my ability to succeed and thrive at Amazon.”
Building a community
UH West Oʻahu has an incredible community, Perez said, and she feels fortunate to have been a part of that community.
“From my classmates to my colleagues to all the incredible staff — a big shout-out to Diane Tobin — I formed a community that I felt a part of and I wanted to share that same community with others,” Perez said. “I couldn’t help but want all our students at UH West Oʻahu to feel that same sense of community, which is why it was an easy answer to return to work as a staff member at the Noʻeau Center. I wanted to give back to my campus that gave me so much.”
Perez said she gained a new sense of the importance of community during her time at UH West Oʻahu.
“Everyone on campus is ʻohana, and after graduating, I wanted to continue to invest in my community,” Perez said. “That’s why I founded Wahine ʻIke Loa.”
Perez’s non-profit program seeks to empower women and keiki through motorsports.
“As a former national motocross racer, I witnessed first-hand the marginalization of women in my sport, and I wanted to change that,” she said. “I was encouraged by the community I built at UH West Oʻahu to invest in my community, and a part of my community is motocross.”
Wahine ʻIke Loa teaches women and keiki how to ride dirt bikes through experiential, hands-on clinics. The program focuses on everything from rider safety gear to environmental awareness, signal and stretching to starting and stopping, riding posture and shifting to turning and rider management.
“Speaking of motocross, Dr. Stan Orr and Dr. Mark Hanson invited me to present at a conference along with ‘The Flyin’ Hawaiian’ John DeSoto about our experiences with motocross, moto-history in the islands, and life as a motocross racer,” Perez said. “It was exciting to combine my love of the sport with my love of research and academics, and I’m continuing to research and write on the rich history of motocross in the islands.”
Perez concluded with a message for UH West Oʻahu students who may find inspiration in her story — from her Thirty Under 30 award to her work at Amazon — encouraging them to keep pressing onward. College is not easy, Perez said, but she reminds her fellow pueo that they have support.
“UH West Oʻahu has an abundance of resources to support you in your academic journey, whether it’s tutoring support, career-guidance, or even a potential campus job — take advantage of your time at UH West Oʻahu,” Perez said. “Invest in your UH West Oʻahu community, build relationships with your classmates, faculty, and staff because it will not only make your college experiences immensely more fulfilling, but also might help you to discover a career you never imagined.”