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He Speaks for the Trees

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 10/28/2014 More stories >>


Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences BS alumnus Matthew Alan Sylva is descended from farmers and plant lovers on both sides of his family. He has been interested in plants “since before I could talk,” which led eventually to one of his concurrent bachelor’s degrees. And though plants came before speech, his interest in communication soon caught up, manifesting first in his BA in journalism and later in his study of the law.

During his time at CTAHR, Matt put both these interests to good use, not only researching the conservation and cultivation of native trees and other plants, but also communicating the results of his research. He won a CTAHR Award for Merit for Undergraduates at the CTAHR/COE Symposium and the first-place award for Natural Sciences Presentations at the Honors/UROP Symposium, successes he credits to his philosophy that people are capable of greater things than they realize.

Matt says his CTAHR
classes and mentors remain “crucial” in his journey.

Matt says his CTAHR classes and mentors remain “crucial” in his journey.

It was working on his senior Honors project on wiliwili trees in Waikoloa Dry Forest that taught Matt the most: not only subjectspecific knowledge but also time-management skills and a sense of perspective that have proven invaluable in law school. His mentor and thesis adviser Dr. Leyla Kaufman was impressed with his “motivation and determination” during the extensive effort the project required, including over 180 hours of fieldwork: “He wasn’t intimidated by the amount of work needed to achieve his objectives…counting and tagging inflorescences, measuring tree diameters, counting seedlings, etc.,” she remembers; “I was also very impressed with his presentation and communication skills.”

After graduation, Matt spent some time working, as is his summer practice, with native Hawaiian plants at the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethno-Botanical Garden on his native Big Island before starting UH’s William S. Richardson School of Law in the fall. But he says his CTAHR classes and mentors, especially Drs. Kaufman and Mark Wright, remain “crucial” in aiding him along his journey. This is true not only in terms of skills— learning about governmental agencies and laws in a PEPS Environmental Law class and gaining writing experience that’s now helping him with legal briefs—but also in the inspiration for how to use them: he’s working towards his Environmental Law Certificate, with an eye towards perhaps specializing in environmental law.