28 Mar ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT | Ryan Longman

Kupu HYCC summer alum Ryan Longman has come a long way from the Jersey shore. Bouncing around after high school from Pennsylvania to Oregon to Maui (on a one-way ticket), followed by traveling, working and soul searching for years, he eventually ended up back on Maui and in 2006 joined Kupu as an HYCC Summer program Maui team leader.

“When a golden opportunity presents itself in life, you have to take it,” Ryan said. “I was working full-time at night and on the weekends and attending school at night when I took on my role with HYCC. I did it for the experience and not for the money. When you’re young and you don’t have family you have an opportunity to explore the world.”

Ryan and his team definitely took advantage of this opportunity and explored and worked at some of the most beautiful and remote places in the state.

“We extracted invasive species at the top of Pu‘u Kukui, planted trees and learned about Hawaiian history on Kaho‘olawe, climbed the mountain of Auwahi to help restore a native forest, and walked the kings trail in ‘Āhihi-Kīna‘u to learn about some of the challenges of protecting the natural environment,” he added.

But the experience ended up being more than taking in the view at private natural preserves, secluded islands and ancient historic sites.

He said, “Hands down, my favorite part of this experience was connecting with so many environmentally conscious people and participating in meaningful work. At that point in my life I had worked many different jobs, however this was the first time I found myself giving back. After my experience with HYCC I knew I wanted to stay connected with the conservation community.”

And that he did. During Ryan’s graduate research on high elevation climate change in Hawai‘i, he reconnected with his HYCC Summer contacts for fieldwork and external collaborations.

Ten years later, with a Master’s degree and Ph.D. from UH Mānoa’s Department of Geography and Environment, Ryan now serves as lecturer and a research scientist within the UH system. He teaches at UH Mānoa, UH Maui College (online) and with the Mānoa Academy, a new summer program that allows high school students an opportunity to earn college credits. He also continues to engage in several research projects that include mapping rainfall across the island chain, analyzing cold front activity and collecting and processing climate data.

Some lessons that Ryan has learned along the way:

  • As you get older and take on more responsibility your options are limited. My advice is always to go for it when you can!
  • Climate change is real and it is happening now! 
  • Ecosystems in Hawai‘i are fragile and despite our remote location we are not immune to the effects of rising sea levels, coral bleaching and ocean acidification, warmer air temperatures, and more extreme events.  
  • Our Islands are changing and we all need to do our part to protect them.
  • Conservation efforts are an important part of the solution to climate change.
  • If we all do a little good now, it will add up to a lot of good in the future.

Some parting thoughts from Ryan for those seeking an education in environment:

If you are a current college student on the fence about a major, I hope you consider the Department of Geography and Environment at UH Mānoa. If you are a high school student looking to get a head start on college then check out the Mānoa Academy and hopefully you will be able to join me in GEOG 101 The Natural Environment.

“I had a lot of help getting to where I am today and so I’m always happy to give back. You can shoot me an email anytime.”

For those interested in advice about continuing education or questions about climate change, email Ryan Longman at rlongman@hawaii.edu.

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