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A biological, cultural approach to conservation begins at home – and online

A view of a bay with bright blue water in Hawai'i, taken from the Ala Kahakai Trail.

La Crivello spends some of her time serving as a coordinator for the Ala Kahakai Trail Association, among other commitments to amplify the impact she has on her community.

Oregon State Ecampus graduate uses experience, education and dedication to impact her community

By Tracy Scott
November 22, 2021

Cayla “La” Helene Puamaiokalani Crivello worked with various conservation agencies in Hawai’i for several years before enrolling in Oregon State University’s environmental sciences bachelor’s degree program online. Today, the Oregon State Ecampus graduate applies what she learned to further support and advocate for the preservation and conservation of cultural resources on the islands.

It was 2018, and Crivello had reached a turning point in her life. She’d received her associate degree from a local community college in Kailua-Kona and yearned to pursue a higher credential in the sciences, but her choices were limited.

“I could either move out of the state to continue my education or face a daily four-hour commute to the nearest university,” Crivello says. “So when I learned about my [community college]’s degree partnership with OSU Ecampus, it seemed like a great opportunity.”

Her experience as a forest preserve field technician and cultural liaison for land management, along with her exposure to ancient and historic trail systems, meant she could bring the lessons she’d learned in the field directly into the online classroom and vice versa. While on the job, she learned about the influence different stakeholders have on the bio-cultural approach to conservation. Federal, state and local government entities, native Hawaiian organizations, and the community itself must all work together for the common good.

Crivello feels the transition into a more inclusive land management and stewardship approach is beneficial to all parties involved.

“It’s pretty popular in conservation to acknowledge traditional ecological knowledge while also ensuring Indigenous people that have lived on the land for generations have a seat at the table. They have the most valuable understanding and perspective of that landscape, what’s there and what’s not,” she says.

An Oregon degree from Hawai’i

So she enrolled online with Oregon State Ecampus with a specific goal: to get better at what she was already doing and have a greater impact on her community.

“That’s why I appreciated OSU so much. They supported the fact that I already knew who I was. I didn’t need to go away to school to figure that out. And I didn’t want to,” she says. “…It’s vital to me as an Indigenous person to stay connected to my land and to stay connected to my people. And when you have to go away for four years or more, it’s not conducive with that,” she says.

La Crivello smiles at the camera wearing a traditional straw hat and a high-necked dress.

La Crivello has devoted her life to conservation in the only place she’d ever want to call home – Hawai’i. And with her OSU Ecampus degree, she didn’t have to move away to make a bigger impact.

 

For Crivello, a safe online environment meant she could build relationships with instructors and students and exchange ideas freely, including classmates sharing the similarities and differences in their physical and cultural landscapes. Oregon State Ecampus also helped Crivello apply concepts she learned in the classroom to her daily work.

“Every class was somehow linked to what I was experiencing right then and there in the work environment,” Crivello says. “The fieldwork was what made it click for me. I was already familiar with certain applications from work. But before, I didn’t know what to look for.

“For example, one assignment required us to write an ecological restoration plan (ERP). It made such a difference after breaking the ERP down in the classroom and then applying it on the job. For me, it was one of those things that I just needed to learn in real-time.”

Impacting her community

Today, Crivello continues her work with local communities. Her current focus is land development, which includes studying native plant species and ancient burial sites. Traditional ecological knowledge is heavily emphasized within that framework, and stewardship decisions are made with input from the native Hawaiian community.

“These are the families that will be there in perpetuity. Their children will be taking care of the lands that we’re taking care of today. Seven generations down, they’re still going to be here,” she says.

As for the future, Crivello plans to keep working in conservation. She’s committed to doing whatever she can to positively impact as many people in her community as possible.

Ready to impact your own community? Explore all of Oregon State’s conservation and natural sciences online degree programs and find the one that fits you best.

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