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Igniting the spark


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Rio Kwon and Carina Fasi are both young attorneys in downtown Honolulu. Kwon is a 30-year-old associate at Schneider Tanaka Radovich Andrew & Tanaka on Alakea Street. Fasi is a 29-year-old associate at Carlsmith Ball on Bishop Street. One thing they have in common is that the spark to become a lawyer ignited in their college years. While undergraduates at UH Mānoa, the Political Science majors were selected as interns to work in Washington, D.C., as part of the Mānoa Political Internship (MPIN) Program, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

“The program pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to do things that I didn’t know I was capable of,” said Fasi, who interned in 2017 with U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono and who is the granddaughter of former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi. “Some of my most memorable experiences in D.C. included meeting a U.S. Supreme Court justice during the appointment process, sitting in on oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, and attending the first Women’s March. Working in D.C. inspired me to pursue a career in law, and I will forever be grateful to have had such a rewarding opportunity.”

Kwon also had a memorable internship in the nation’s capital in 2013. He was placed in the office of Daniel Inouye, the storied senior U.S. senator for Hawaiʻi who suddenly passed away in December 2012. But after then-Governor Neil Abercrombie appointed Lt. Governor Brian Schatz to fill Inouye’s seat, Kwon was retained as a congressional intern, for which he was grateful. He rolled up his sleeves to join the new U.S. senator and key staff as they started their office from scratch.

“There were a lot of logistical things that we had to figure out – including a new group of hires all at one time, and basically building everything from the ground up,” remembers Kwon. “Later, when I attended the Richardson law school at UH Mānoa, I was always asked about that experience, even after I graduated. Being able to say that I was a part of the office from the beginning was really significant.”

It’s that kind of life-changing experience while enrolled in the College of Social Sciences, and earning academic credits along the way, that makes MPIN so unique. “The congressional internships are the most demanding, because the selectees live in Washington, D.C., for an entire semester, usually in their junior or senior year,” said Larry Nitz, Political Science professor and MPIN director since the 1970s. “But there are also many local internships in the offices of the governor, lieutenant governor, prosecuting attorney and public defender, Judiciary, and Hawaiʻi State Legislature, which are just as life-changing and significant.”

Full-time interns receive an achievement scholarship to cover 12 credits of resident tuition. Congressional interns earn an additional stipend to cover the cost of travel, housing, local transportation and food in Washington, D.C. There are about 1,000 UH Mānoa alumni who are MPINs.

In the U.S. Senate, new interns from all states are encouraged to memorize the names and faces of every senator so they can be personally greeted in the hallways, said Nitz. In the U.S. House, interns are asked to memorize the names and faces of representatives they are likely to see daily near their offices. Intern duties include staffing committee meetings, taking notes on testimony at hearings, and working with office staff to respond to constituent contacts. There is so much reporting, writing and synthesizing going on that good writers can become great communicators.

Meanwhile, for interns placed in Honolulu, MPINs keep the wheels spinning at the state Capitol, especially during the hectic legislative session. For example, they hand-carry bills from their committees to prospective co-sponsors, work the front desk, answer phone calls and emails from constituents, and staff the all-important public and committee hearings. They are basically the backbone of day-to-day operations.

“We want students who are bright, polite and hardworking,” said Nitz. “Our ultimate goal is to put as many of our students through internships and help them mature into fine professionals. No matter what they do, they’re still engaged in the democratic process and that is important for a small state like Hawaiʻi. This program is the very best way to help establish local kids in policy positions and careers in Washington, D.C, and to continue to represent the state.”

Nitz said it is vital that political interns be positive ambassadors of UH Mānoa, resulting in the students reaping marketable job skills as they enter the workforce. That’s why he was thrilled to see so many former MPINs at a recent anniversary reunion event at College Hill.

“The purpose was to recognize the 50th anniversary of the local legislative internship program and the 15thanniversary of the congressional program, so we can try to build an endowment for the program. I would love to see more MPIN alumni from some years back continue their commitment and engagement with our new interns and our younger alumni,” said Nitz. “This is a very special club of folks who committed themselves, at a young age and at an early point in their careers, to serve Hawaiʻi. I would love to see their continued support of the program.”

The application deadline for Spring 2025 Mānoa Political Internships is October 15, 2024. For more information on the program, see

Questions may be communicated via email sent to

Monetary donations to the program may be made via UH Foundation through this link: Manoa Political Internship Program in Washington, DC (Fund #129-3680-4).

Additional news stories from the College of Social Sciences.

Lei-bedecked man and woman on College Hill lanai
Rio Kwon and Carina Fasi at College Hill for the Mānoa Political Internship 50th anniversary event.
Mānoa Political Interns with Larry Nitz
Former Mānoa Political Interns at College Hill with MPIN Director Larry Nitz, at right.
MPIN Jairus Larry Denise
From left, Jairus Grove, Department of Political Science chair; Larry Nitz, MPIN director; and Denise Eby Konan, CSS dean, at College Hill event honoring MPIN alumni and program.