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Nicholas Bongcaron, Māhealani Taitague-Laforga and Theresa Ng

Three students who exemplify the spirit of excellence among public health graduates at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Thompson School of Public Health & Social Work will earn their bachelor’s of arts in public health (BAPH) in December 2022 and are optimistic for the road ahead. They are part of a class of 32 BAPH and 14 advanced degree candidates who are graduating this fall.

Check out photos from UH Mānoa’s commencement ceremony

“These Office of Public Health Studies students are outstanding examples of the impact undergraduates can have on public health in our local communities, both as students and as members of our workforce,” said Undergraduate Chair Denise Nelson-Hurwitz.

Theresa Ng

Ng smiling
Theresa Ng

Ng became a public health major as a freshman at UH Mānoa. With a passion for health policy and advocacy, she has gained experience at different levels of public policy, through a legislative internship in Washington, D.C. and an internship with the Office of Lieutenant Governor. Together with the Hawaiʻi Public Health Institute as part of her Applied Learning Experience, she advocated for statewide regulation of vaping products among teens, linking with her capstone project focused on a policy analysis of e-cigarette regulation to decrease youth accessibility and interest.

“Working with the Hawaiʻi Public Health Institute was such an amazing way to get involved in the state legislature and my appreciation for policy really grew there. The field of public health is so broad, and the fact that I could do a policy-related internship, which was my primary goal, was great,” Ng said.

Ng has been regularly engaged with the public health student organization, Hui Ola Pono, including holding leadership positions. Following graduation, she will be working with State Sen. Stanley Chang and is excited to work in the housing policy and advocacy field.

Māhealani Taitague-Laforga

laforga smiling and holding up a photo
Māhealani Taitague-Laforga

Taitague-Laforga learned about UH Mānoa’s public health program after earning her associate’s degree from Leeward Community College. Earning an undergraduate degree in public health was an opportunity to address inequities and promote resilience among the Native Hawaiian community. Taitague-Laforga was accepted into this summer’s inaugural Native Hawaiian and Indigenous Health Summer Academy, where she completed a qualitative assessment identifying three top priorities for Native Hawaiians to thrive. She also serves as the events coordinator of Hui Ola Pono.

“The [BA] public health pathway provided me with ample support and space to grow as well as confirmed my public health passions,” Taitague-Laforga shared. “I have recently submitted my application for the master’s program in public health with a specialization in Native Hawaiian and Indigenous health at UH Mānoa for fall 2023 and I am very excited for what’s next!”

Nicholas Bongcaron

bongcaron wearing his graduation gown
Nicholas Bongcaron

Bongcaron discovered public health in his sophomore year as a former gymnast with lots of interest in mental health and mental health support. Completing his public health capstone field experience with Mental Health America of Hawaiʻi, he developed a focus on social health among secondary school students in Hawaiʻi.

“I feel bad for the ‘quaran-teens’,” Bongcaron reflected. “They missed out on middle school, homecoming and making new friends. I hope they’re looking out for each other.”

He impressed his field supervisors and was offered a job even before his graduation this month. As he wraps up his bachelor’s degree and looks toward the future, he balances his final semester of classes with coordinating and providing content for Mental Health America of Hawaiʻi’s social media accounts.

Office of Public Health Studies Director Eric Hurwitz added, “We are very proud of all our graduates this year, some meeting in-person for the first time after several semesters of online learning.”.

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