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Heewon Kwon

An internship changed a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa PhD student’s perspective on government work and inspired her to pursue a career in the public sector, possibly in Hawaiʻi.

Heewon Kwon is expected to graduate with her doctoral degree in social psychology from the College of Social Sciences in spring 2023. She recently completed a three-month remote internship assisting the Utah State Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget (GOPB) to redesign the Utah Boards and Commission website to be user-friendly for the public and administrative staff. Organized through a nonprofit company called Coding it Forward, Kwon worked as a user experience researcher, prepared and conducted extensive user interviews and pilot-testing sessions, analyzed qualitative and quantitative data, and communicated with the tech team for a minimum viable product plan delivered to stakeholders.

“Although I learned a lot about the project, the role of a user experience researcher, and working as a team, I think the most valuable thing I learned was how much I was biased toward government work,” Kwon said. “My experience with GOPB changed my bias that the government is slow and conservative. The GOPB team was efficient and enthusiastic, and the passion to help people was contagious. I realized how much in line what the government pursues to make people’s daily experiences better is with my own goal as a researcher. It truly changed my perspective and drew me to the public sector.”

Kwon had a diverse experience in her UH Mānoa doctoral program, from her involvement in unique research projects to valuable learning opportunities such as teaching and serving on the diversity committee.

“The diverse population, culture and history of Hawaiʻi is certainly what every cultural psychologist would dream of,” Kwon said. “I was able to get involved in various multicultural projects including my dissertation on lay perceptions of cultural appropriation, an implicit bias test project on various ethnicities and a National Science Foundation-granted project on the cultural barriers for Native Hawaiian students in engineering.”

Teaching award winner

In addition, Kwon taught a psychology statistics course at UH Mānoa for three semesters. Her exceptional work earned Kwon a 2021 Frances Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, which recognizes dedication and demonstrated excellence as teachers of undergraduate students.

“Preparing the materials, teaching and interacting with students was one of the most rewarding experiences,” Kwon said. “Another experience I cherish is the opportunity to engage in the department’s diversity. I learned so much about the disparities that still exist at various levels of society and how to fight them. These experiences have all been crucial in my graduate school life and I hope to continue these aspects in my future career.”

—By Marc Arakaki

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