Getting to know your student leaders: Kapena Chee

Brian Nguyen News Contributor

Leader at the Native American Longhouse, active student and friend

Hawai’i is known for its diverse race of mixed ethnicity and being a Hawaiian of multiple ethnicities, Kapena Chee, the leader of the Native American Longhouse, strives to bring awareness to the Corvallis community while balancing the demands of a civil engineering student.

Chee is from Kailua where he lived in an intimate and small neighborhood that he says is uncannily similar to Oregon State University.

“Corvallis is such a small community that it correlates with the community you’d find in Hawai’i. If it’s not Honolulu or a large city it’s a really small town, and being from a small town I know what’s it’s like to see the same people every day,” Chee said. “To know everyone and share the same community with familiar faces.”

While Chee noticed some familiarity in the transition from Hawai’i to Corvallis, he also had an revelation in the difference between the norms that inspired him in his leadership.

“One thing I definitely learned coming up here is that not everyone has multiple ethnicity; everyone back home is at least five mixed. It’s really hard to be racist, I mean if your racist towards someone you’re probably the same race,” Chee laughed. “There’s not really a problem with diversity and coming to a place where it’s spoken a lot more and seeing that racism is still prominent is eye opening.”

Chee applied to being a facilitator at the Longhouse in the fall of 2014 and says grew the confidence to become a student leader the following year.

“As I proceeded through the year I felt that I could handle the responsibility of a leadership role with my personality and skills,” Chee said.

Chee’s proudest moment working at the center was helping out during the recognition of Indigenous People’s Day with student leader William Miller, a senior in political science. The event was endorsed by Corvallis mayor, Biff Traber back in October.

“Though it wasn’t my own event, it was still an accomplishment; to be a part of and assisting with that,” Chee said.

Chee’s duties at the Longhouse include reaching out to the community through social media, facilitating events, organizing the office, planning out meetings and attending them.

His personal definition of a student leader is someone who can find the time to balance school work while inspiring others. Colleague Michaela Merrill, a senior in bio engineering and international degree, sees that to be true in him.

“He’s always has things going on school related or extra curricular, but he always makes time for people no matter how busy he is. If you ask him something I don’t think I have ever heard him say ‘I can’t,’ he just does it, or he’ll talk to you, or if someone needs attention he’ll give it to them,” Merrill said.

Merrill enjoys working with Chee and both relate to the hectic and exhausting life of a college student.

“He’s one of my favorite coworkers. He and I always get to complain about the engineering life and how busy we are and how stressful it is, but he is always positive to be around,” Merill said.

Chee and Merill have similar skills and both need to be organized, which includes labeling everything in the office.

“He’s a little OCD, kind of like me,” Merill said

Merill also appreciates Chee’s sense of fashion.

“He just comes in so stylish and trendy; just very well put together. I actually caught him looking at watches the other day,” Merill said with a laugh.

When not managing events, studying for tough exams or checking out the latest watches, Chee is often spending his free time at the gym according to Matt Williams, a senior in ethnic studies.

“We both workout a lot in Dixon and were always talking about fitness stuff so we connect on that level,” Williams said.

Williams is a peer facilitator at the Longhouse, and he believes Chee’s success as a student leader is attributed to his unique personality traits.

“He has the two extremes, I feel like. He’s very playful sometimes and other times he’s very serious,” Williams said. “He does a good job at adjusting between the two and in a work environment we need some of both. I think those are good attributes to have.”

While Chee himself encompass leadership, it’s both his mom and dad that led and inspired him to strive.

“They’ve been a constant push, constant helping hand in helping me achieve my own goals and realizing what they were. Both my parents manage to send my brother and I to an amazing school at such a young age. Fortunately, it gave us many opportunities and now that I’m older I realize the value of education,” Chee said. “It’s incredible that my parents were somehow able to afford that, so I try to live my life everyday hoping to repay it whether in monetary or in pride.”

Those at the Longhouse say Chee does well representing himself and the center.

“He represents the center very well. It’s good too because our staff is a pretty mixed group. Like our center represents not just indigenous people in America but also Pacific Islanders,” Williams said. “Just the fact that he is Hawaiian and getting those perspective with issues surrounding those community helps educate the rest of the staff.”

Chee is a mix of German, Scottish, English, Irish, Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese.

Chee’s favorite quote is, “Don’t follow your passion, follow your effort,” from businessman Mark Cuban. Chee hopes that others will do the same in their effort of the pursuit of prosperity.

“Don’t stop doing what you’re doing. Success comes to everyone in such different timely manners that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint when. As much as it starts to become a struggle, my best advice I can give to anyone is don’t stop,” Chee said.

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