Featured Alumnus

Kawika Riley ('05)


"UNC's Political Science program was the intellectual and academic springboard that launched my early career in public service. I arrived in Greeley as a kid from a small town thousands of miles away, and left four years later with the academic and pragmatic knowledge I needed to dive right into professional life in Washington DC. In the time in between my first and last day as a poly sci major, I made friends with classmates and built relationships with faculty that continue to this day."

Kawika is the Chief Advocate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, an independent agency established by Hawaii's State Constitution to improve the lives of Hawaii's indigenous people, Native Hawaiians. In this role he leads a team of nearly 30 staff, which work towards achieving OHA's mission by advocating at the local, state, federal, and sometimes international level.

Born and raised on Hawai'i Island, Kawika chose to leave his home state to attend UNC after speaking with a recruiter who visited Kealakehe High School. While on campus, he immersed himself in learning politics through student government and studying political science, while staying in touch with his Hawaii roots by working at the Asian and Pacific American Student Services, UNC's cultural center that serves all students from Hawaii. He finished his senior year as student body president, winner of the 2005 Robert and Ludie Dickeson Presidential Prize for Leadership, a graduate of the Honor's Program, a McNair Scholar, and one of UNC's representatives to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

Following graduation, Kawika moved to Washington, DC, where he would spend the next eight years studying, teaching and practicing politics. His jobs included a brief stint at a Congressional Caucus foundation; four years as an aide to U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka in his capacity as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs; two years as an international and national spokesman for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration; and two separate one-year tours at the Washington DC Bureau of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (first as a graduate student and policy fellow, then six years later as the Bureau's director).

During his time working in Washington, Kawika also attended and graduated from George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, and he went on to teach political management at GWU for nearly five years. He also met, fell in love with, and married his wife Lorinda, who was also a Hawaii local temporarily in DC. Together Kawika and Lorinda started a family, and also founded a nonprofit corporation (the Pacific Islander Access project) that has opened up over $1 million in annual financial aid for Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. Kawika and Lorinda continue to direct their nonprofit in their spare time.

After over 12 years, Kawika and Lorinda moved their family home to Hawaii, where they now reside full time. When he's not advocating for the state's first people, Kawika spends as much time as possible playing with his son, talking with his wife, and enjoying the beauty of his home state.