Distinguished Alumni on Writing

In collaboration with the University of Hawai'i Alumni Association, we have established the Distinguished Alumni on Writing page to offer insights on writing in professional life and suggestions for students to prepare for it.

2013 Distinguished Alumni
Edwin Gayagas
Bachelor in Education, 1962, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Distinguished Alumni Award

1. Please give an example or examples of how writing has contributed to accomplishments in your personal or professional life.

Pidgin was my first language. When I arrived at the University of Hawaii I was labeled as "deficient" in the spoken English language and was required to enroll in remedial speech for 3 semesters. Writing was also a very difficult task for me. It was a struggle for me through 5 years of college. I never realized how important writing was until I joined the Army. Conscious of my lack of confidence in writing, I plugged away, got severely criticized at times, but hung in there until I got it! Many supervisors later, I wrote my first Operations Order for a parachute jump at Ft. Campbell. I'm here today to say that the operation was successful.

I spent most of my adult life in the military where I found writing to be the primary medium for communicating within and among the tertiary levels of organizational Army units. Written battle plans (operations orders) were required to be clear, concise and to the point. Any errors of omission could prove to be disastrous, and could mean the difference between success or failure, therefore care and attention was given to insure full understanding of the mission, execution and supporting elements of the operation.

2. What advice would you give to students as they strive to develop their expertise as writers and future professionals?

Keep in mind the main purpose for writing (mission); write with clarity (use clear and understandable terms and words) and above all be brief (free of extraneous explanation).


Patrick Sullivan Patrick Sullivan, Ph.D.
MS in ocean engineering, 1981; PhD in ocean engineering, 1985, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Distinguished Alumni Award

1. Please give an example or examples of how writing has contributed to accomplishments in your personal or professional life.

While working on my PhD in engineering, my dissertation chairman, Dr. Bruce Liebert, told me “… you’re not getting out until you can write.” As you might imagine, I was not happy. He then advised me to get a copy of the “Chicago Manual of Style” and start going to the Writing Workshop on campus. At the time I thought: ”What does this have to do with engineering and why is he being so #!#!# difficult?” In retrospect, it turned out to be one of the best things I ever did, and one of the most valuable skills I acquired while at the University of Hawaii. In general, writing is underemphasized in an engineering curriculum, so it’s common for engineers to graduate with subpar writing skills. Today I’m grateful for Dr. Liebert’s insistence on writing well.

2. What advice would you give to students as they strive to develop their expertise as writers and future professionals?

I counsel my staff on how writing enables imagination to shape reality. It’s our responsibility to inform policy-makers, managers and politicians on technology and innovation. Engineers and scientists are duty-bound to help decision-makers find the right approach in seeking the best answer or conclusion. This requires clear and persuasive writing – one of the most powerful tools a technical person can possess.


Barbara Tanabe Barbara Tanabe
Executive MBA, 1983, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Distinguished Alumni Award

1. Please give an example or examples of how writing has contributed to accomplishments in your personal or professional life.

Writing is my life’s blood. That’s a natural statement of a journalist, as that’s what professionals are expected to do --- write about events and observations in daily life. I was fortunate to be exposed to the value of newspapers by my father who was a reporter for an international wire service in Tokyo and later a public information officer for the U.S. military. He brought home drafts of his work, as well as pamphlets about American policies, that I read as a child. I practiced being a “reporter” by asking questions and writing stories during play time. I also had a wonderful history teacher who insisted that we write daily essays – one page about a topic assigned at the beginning of every class. So by the time I had to make a living as a journalist, writing was already a big part of my life.

2. What advice would you give to students as they strive to develop their expertise as writers and future professionals?

Writing is a skill that requires practice. It is really a creative art, as there are so many things we can do with writing. Poets, musicians, novelists, playwrights, journalists, bloggers – all write in different styles and use words to express human thoughts and emotions. As a television journalist, I wrote short stories reinforced with interviews and pictures. But as a contributor to a local newspaper, I used more descriptive phrases and text to allow readers to visualize the story. For radio I wrote sparingly, allowing natural sounds and voices of subjects to stimulate the imagination of listeners. To become a better writer, a student should also read a variety of subjects by different authors. There is always room to learn.


2012 Distinguished Alumni
Robert Alm, JD
BA in political science, 1973, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Distinguished Alumni Award

1. Please give an example or examples of how writing has contributed to accomplishments in your personal or professional life.

During my years at Manoa, I was so lucky that my professors insisted on my improving my skills as a writer. I have found over the years that however much I work on public speaking or what I do at meetings or what my interpersonal skills are, what stays on my “record” forever is what I have written down. If what is written sounds thoughtful, concise and persuasive then it will stand the test of time. If it does not sound that way or if my writing is poor in its spelling, grammar or writing style then it raises serious questions about my education and background, and whatever positives I have created by my in-person actions are lost in the long run. And more importantly, lost in the record (written) that has the most permanence.

2. What advice would you give to students as they strive to develop their expertise as writers and future professionals?

If you asked me for advice on writing and its impact on your professional life, I would offer the following as thoughts:

  1. Always re-read what you have written, preferably after it has sat for a day or two. And that is even truer when the issue is more difficult or more important to your position or your career.
  2. Read it aloud. It is amazing how different it can sound when you have to articulate each word separately and aloud.
  3. Eliminate all “harshness” and if possible all negativity. Life changes constantly; people and situations may be very different over the years and what sounds appropriate in the current moment may sound very poorly at a later time.
  4. Think long-term. When someone reads what you wrote whether next week or ten years from now, it is best when it sounds like you were thinking about long-term interests.
  5. Be a “big” person. Care about others, care about your organization, care about Hawaii; and make sure your writing says it.

  6. Patrick DeLeon Patrick DeLeon, Ph.D., M.P.H., JD
    MPH in health services administration, 1973, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
    Distinguished Alumni Award

    1. Please give an example or examples of how writing has contributed to accomplishments in your personal or professional life.

    When Professor Jerrold Michael, then Dean of the School of Public Health, discussed with U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye whether he could place me as a summer intern in his Washington, DC office, thus fulfilling a university requirement, the only question the Senator asked was: “Can he write?” 38+ years later, it was time to retire as the Senator’s Chief-of-Staff. A fascinating journey which began the first day of the infamous Watergate hearings. Along the way, I served as President of the American Psychological Association (2000) and was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (2008). Expressing a clear vision for the future has been critical. Over the years, I have been writing columns for professional audiences and still find that this is an excellent way to “keep in touch.”

    2. What advice would you give to students as they strive to develop their expertise as writers and future professionals?

    Whenever possible try to develop a visual picture for your audience. Let their minds creatively embrace the general theme which you are proposing. Do this by getting the readership engaged and passionate about what you truly care about. A positive orientation is significantly more effective. The more you write, the easier this underlying strategy will become. Seek out opportunities to address different audiences thereby challenging yourself. Especially appreciate that excessive reliance upon facts and small details soon leads to readership exhaustion. Listen to criticism from those you respect and keep moving forward. Perhaps most importantly, one should always try to walk away and “sleep on” a finished draft. By morning, creative thoughts and reorganization will often surprisingly emerge.