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Three BYU–Hawaii Alumni Among First Ph.D. Graduates Recognized at BYU Convocation

On Thursday, April 27, 2023, Brigham Young University–Hawaii President John S.K. Kauwe III attended the College of Life Sciences Convocation at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Four individuals gathered for a picture. They are wearing their PhD regalia.
From left to right, Rebeka Greenall, President John S.K. Kauwe III, Tava'ilau Segi, and Justina P. Tavana.
Photo by John S.K. Kauwe III, BYUH University President

As President Kauwe sat amongst the ceremony's distinguished faculty, he was ecstatic to see that the first three Ph.D. graduates acknowledged were BYU–Hawaii alumni. He expressed his excitement about this unique circumstance on social media, sharing, "There's no doubt you three will continue to be the leaders President David O. McKay prophesied about."

Having worked closely with some of these students as a faculty member at BYU, he was proud to see them recognized for their hard work and tireless research. The doctorate graduates are Tava'ilau Segi, originally from Samoa, Justina P. Tavana, also from Samoa, and Rebeka Greenall, from Bozeman, Montana. They shared their excitement for the Seasider connection and gave further insight on how their time at BYU–Hawaii prepared them for this monumental achievement.

During his time at BYU–Hawaii, Tava'ilau Segi studied marine biology and gained valuable experience that has shaped his future. Segi credits the guidance of his professors for helping him reach his full potential. He shared, "I had a great experience at BYU–Hawaii...the experiences and challenges I faced as an undergrad shaped me moving forward. I worked with great professors in the science department who saw the potential I didn't see in myself." In 2017, he graduated and pursued a doctorate at BYU, where he focused on conservation biology with an emphasis on coral reefs. Segi aims to collaborate with governments and nonprofit organizations to restore marine ecosystems crucial to Oceania's cultures, people, and nations.

Three BYUH alumni taking a selfie.
Photo by Rebeka Greenall

Justina P. Tavana came to BYU-Hawaii to begin her journey in education. While at the university, Tavana 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, which helped prepare her for her future. After graduating with a bachelor's in biology in 2003, Tavana has since worked with Dr. John Kauwe, conducting genetics research focused on Alzheimer's disease in Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. Her dedication and expertise in the field will undoubtedly lead to significant contributions to the scientific community.

Rebeka Greenall graduated from BYU–Hawaii with a bachelor's in biology and a minor in biochemistry in 2017. She recognizes Laie as a place of refuge that became a place of spiritual growth and shelter throughout her undergrad years. Greenall added, "I learned the importance of respecting and learning from Native peoples, knowledge, and values. As a guest in Hawaii, I learned from the values of Aloha ʻĀina and increased my understanding of stewardship and living in harmony with the earth." Since then, Greenall has utilized her interest in conservation education to develop a curriculum that educates Pacific Islanders about climate change.

Greenall hopes to continue this work by teaching people to care more about the earth and be better stewards of the land in her home community. Of the unique circumstance at graduation, Greenall shared, "What an incredible experience representing BYU–Hawaii is such a cool way! Everywhere I've gone in life, I've taken BYU–Hawaii with me."

The success of these three BYU–Hawaii alumni is a testament to the university's commitment to providing quality education and preparing its students for success in their chosen fields. It also highlights the impact these graduates and other BYUH alum continue to make in their communities and beyond. The legacy of these graduates will inspire future generations of students to pursue their academic and professional goals with passion and dedication.