Inaugural recipient of the U.S Senator Daniel K. Akaka Regents Scholarship Rebekah Loving is in her 4th year at UH Hilo where she is double majoring in mathematics and computer science. A woman with the desire to inspire others to pursue their dreams with aloha, she shared her thoughts on the impact Senator Akaka and this scholarship are making in her life.
How has the Akaka Regents Scholarship helped you achieve your educational goals?
First and foremost, I have never needed to worry about how I will cover the cost of my education or my immediate needs, because of the generosity of the scholarship in covering tuition.
The travel stipend allowed me to attend the prestigious 5th Heidelberg Laureate Forum and have an incredible, unforgettable experience. Here I was able to interact with brilliant minds and pick their brains over questions I have encountered in my own research. It also taught me a whole new perspective to the world and myself.
As the only female undergraduate in attendance, I was at first a little shy of my ability to have discussions with scientists and mathematicians from across the globe - so beyond me in education and experience. However, I quickly realized how very human and relatable the laureates were, how wonderfully stimulating discussions of machine learning, abstract mathematics, applications of computer science to diagnostics etc. are. I realized that what we share as humans transcends race, culture and place.
This experience as well as all the learning I have accrued through my three years of study at UH Hilo have provided me with the confidence and the experience I need to continue along my educational path to reach my goal of earning a PhD.
Do you have any memories about Senator Akaka you’d like to share?
I will never forget the hours I spent with Senator Daniel Akaka on the night of the Regents Dinner in 2015. From the moment I met him, he shared wisdom and aloha in the most humble and beautiful way.
The Senator told me of his youth growing up in a poor family with eight children. At times they would go hungry, but his mom would be generous, even with strangers, and share whatever food they had. He said at the time he hadn’t understood, but then when he was grown he realized what a lovely thing the generosity and aloha was.
He told me that there would be challenging periods in my life, when things would be going on all around me, but that I must not be distracted, I must keep the focus. But, within the focus, he said, I must always remember the importance of relationships, with family, with friends, with people. That I couldn’t ignore that part of my life, but keep them within it as well as the focus. He stressed that growth must be well-rounded within academics, within us as individuals, within the world and our understanding of it.
He said that wherever I go, I should spread the aloha spirit. When he said to spread the aloha spirit, it was in the most true, honorable, and kind outpouring of love there can be. There have been times when I have felt outrage rising in me at self-serving institutions and people, and I had to remind myself that my goal was to spread the aloha. I’ve often thought of Senator Akaka and his words to me at times like that.
I’m very proud to bear the title of inaugural recipient of the U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka Regents Scholar, because during my time with him I learned some of the most valuable things in life that I shall always carry with me and treasure. My respect for this the incredible man will live on always in my heart.
What do you plan to do after graduation?
I am in the process of applying to graduate school in the fields of applied mathematics, bioinformatics, computational biology, and computer science. I hope to eventually work as a computational biology researcher. During my graduate school career, I plan to leave Hawai‘i, but I hope to return for frequent visits and perhaps after completing my education to stay connected with what will always be my home, my community, my people and the ‘āinaI want to give back to.
Anything else you’d like to share?
It might sound strange, but I miss him, since his passing, but his legacy is certainly not dead and will carry on with me through my life, and I hope to share some of what he passed to me with everyone I interact with.