Driven to Excel: Hiʻilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart ‘99

Yale Assistant Professor Sings Praises of Her Education at Assets

We caught up with Hi'ilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart '99, formerly known as Hi'ilei J. Dye, to hear how Assets School impacted her career in education as an assistant professor at Yale University, and one of her recent Hawaii projects that she completed. 

When did you graduate from Assets High School?

How long did you attend Assets School?
I attended Assets across two separate periods: sixth and seventh grades, and then again from 10th to 12th grades.

After Assets, what school did you go to?
After graduating from Assets, I attended Colby College, a small liberal arts college in Waterville, ME, graduating in 2003 with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. I moved back home to work for a few years, the majority of which was spent as a Project Manager at Philpotts & Associates, an interior design company in Honolulu. In 2006, I returned to the east coast to attend the Bard Graduate Center in New York City, earning an MA in Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, as well as a subsequent degree in Library Science and Archives Management from the Pratt Institute. In 2009, after working in libraries, I returned again to school, this time to earn a PhD in Food Studies from NYU.

Since graduating from Assets School, what have you been up to?
Since graduating from Assets, I’ve spent a lot of time in school and working various jobs in between earning degrees. I’ve had the privilege of working in some of the greatest rare books collections in the world, teaching students in university classrooms, and working on various research projects.

Where do you work now, and what do you do? What are some of the things you like most about your job?
I currently work as an Assistant Professor of Native and Indigenous Studies in the Program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration at Yale University. I love collaborating with students on their research projects, teaching classes in partnership with the Yale Farm, and getting to immerse myself in the world of ideas.    

What do you want your students to learn most from your class at Yale?
I want students to learn how to ask good questions and to be empowered by each of their unique perspectives about the world around them. 

What inspired you to get into your current job?
I became inspired to teach because I believe that educational spaces should be accessible and joyful for all. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to bring visibility to Pacific Island and Indigenous issues to the Yale community, where it has been vastly and historically underrepresented.

Hi'ilei and her Yale University student team repatriate iwi kūpuna back to Hawaii.

Tell us about your repatriation project. Why did you decide to do something about it?
Honestly, I found out about the iwi kūpuna because I simply thought to ask. When I found out that these ancestral remains were here, I knew that getting them back home to Hawaiʻi had to be a priority. So, I reached out to several of the Native Hawaiian students here and asked if they were interested in participating in their repatriation; together we learned the appropriate cultural protocol and were able to assist their journey home with the respect and care that they deserved.  Click here to see the story on KITV.

How did Assets School prepare you for your career?
Assets school had an enormous impact on me as a teacher; my time there taught me that learning looks differently for all people and that great pedagogy not only takes difference into account but celebrates it.

Hi'ilei in her senior photo in the 1999 yearbook.

What are some of your favorite memories of Assets School?
I found joy in learning at Assets – it was a place where I could learn at my own pace. I learned how to give myself the time that I needed to master concepts and how to sprint as fast as I liked when I really locked onto something.   
What do you like to do for fun?
For fun I like to spend time with my spouse and my daughter. I love to cook and feed others good food. And I love to explore new places.

What’s next for you personally or professionally?
For the next while I’ll be here at Yale working towards tenure. Wish me luck!

Anything else you'd like to share?
Assets was such a formative place for me. I am always championing the work that this special school does and am so grateful for the gifts that it gave me!

Hi'ilei and her 'ohana.