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.
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.