Coffee with Kira Ramos

Meet Kira.

My partner in crime, humor soul mate, hula sister, and one of my greatest friends. We joke that we were destined to become friends. We knew it from the first day we met in hula and danced next to each other. From good morning texts to Whole Foods lunches and all the laughs in between – I probably would not be sane nor stable without her. I am infinitely lucky.

Kira is one of the most optimistic, selfless, and supportive rays of sunshine I ever did meet. Furthermore, she has a heart of pure gold and truly lives every day helping people and the environment. She shares my undying desires to both learn anything and everything as well as create a positive change in the world

She is an inspiration and constant reminder that even in tough times, good deeds and positivity can thrive. If there is one thing I’ve learned from Kira, it’s that every positive thought and action matters, big or small.

Now, when I say I was blown away by our coffee conversation, I do mean I was almost falling from the clouds or at least my seat. The level of elegance and excitement she has when talking about her passions can light up the darkest of places. I hope you will be just as inspired by our coffee talk. Enjoy!

Change-maker: Kira Ramos

Coffee of Choice:  Double Shot on Ice with Almond Milk 

Age: 22

Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Current Home: Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Education: Mid-Pacific Institute; B.A. in Sociology from University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; Current Graduate Student – UH Mānoa Department of Urban and Regional Planning

Work: Environmental Planning Intern, G70

You recently graduated college! You must be so excited. How was your experience?
Yes! I am extremely happy to be finished with my undergrad! It definitely feels like a big check mark has been checked off. I recently received my Bachelor’s in Sociology from UH Mānoa. Personally, what I like about attending UH is being assigned readings and then showing up to class the next day and having the author of the piece explain their thoughts and meaning behind what he or she published. Having the ability to read work from the University’s very own talented professors and then being able to listen to them lecture and have discussions is so awesome.

I loved that – it really is special that UH is a research-based university. And now, you get to continue in your graduate program. How has that been?
It’s still crazy to think that undergrad is done and now I’m pursuing a Master’s degree! I’m excited and also nervous for these next two years in the Urban and Regional Planning graduate program. I’m excited to start this new journey and continue to grow and pursue research in the field of planning.

What inspired you to continue your education?
I decided to pursue a Master’s degree because I currently work and intern in the field of environmental planning and I don’t have any educational background in planning. I wanted to gain better insight, education, and knowledge about planning and its history.

So, you’re currently working at G70. What is that like?
I’m an intern with the environmental planners at G70 which is a local architectural, engineering, and environmental planning firm. As a planning intern, I’ve learned a lot about the environmental review process in Hawai‘i and am able to help prepare documents and permits for projects that need to undergo the environmental review process.

What about the environment are you passionate about?
Personally, I am really passionate about the history of our environment. Every place around the world, including this place I call home, has a story. Individuals who have come before us created deep connections with the land and their fellow community members. By preserving these stories, places can be restored with their proper meaning. With rapidly evolving technology that’s available, there are now opportunities to even upgrade historic sustainable practices.  

Can you explain “urban planning?”
Urban planning is a process. It’s evolved over time. Now, when we talk about urban planning, we’re talking about urban population, cities, buildings, large populations. Planning is bringing people to the center while ensuring you’re making ethical and equal decisions that benefit everyone including the environment and future generations.

What is environmental planning?
In environmental planning, we assess the planning decisions and developments of the environment. We write assessments, impact statements, variances, and applications that assess if the development will have any impact that will hurt the environment.

How did your interest in urban and environmental planning start?
I started off as an environmental studies major and then took a spatial studies course in GIS mapping. It really brought to light how mapping is a really powerful tool for the environment. From there, I became interested in planning seeing the power of maps and mapmaking.

What inspired you to study sociology?
I really wanted to focus on social justice and social equity in urban planning. A lot of people are typically interested in transportation planning and transportation itself. I’m really interested in housing, social justice, policy, and policy reform and how it’s really inequitable and not serving its purpose and need.

How does your studies in sociology relate to your interest in the environment and planning?
There are two very broad concepts and ideas when it comes to the environment: a focus on the environment versus a focus on people. For so long, we focused on people. We had these very anthropocentric views that humans come first before the environment. Now, we’re at this breaking point where we have to care about both the environment and people. People are becoming displaced because of climate change. It’s real now so we really need to find this balance between the two and that’s what planning is all about. Planning is about decision making and deciding what’s ethical. In planning you’re never going to have a just decision that benefits everyone. There is always going to be consequences. It comes down to understanding what can be a lesser consequence and who will face these consequences. We need to find a balance between humans and the environment. 

What is a favorite class you’ve taken in college?
There was a class I took in my undergrad program. It was a sociology and ethics course on racism and ethnicity in Hawaiʻi. It really opened my eyes to the fact that we have very covert forms of racism that still exist today. It explored what can we do better in policy and even on an interpersonal level to recognize and address it.

What do you want to do when you graduate with your Master’s degree?
I don’t really know. I didn’t realize there’s so many different avenues you can go with a background in planning. Someone was telling me that you can even serve in the city council and be a representative. You don’t have to just go into the profession of planning itself. I think that’s really interesting to me that you can go further than a planner. You can actually have a bigger impact through local governance. I’m not sure where I want to go now. Thinking about serving the public like that is such a big thought to me but that’s the most impactful way you can go about using your educational background and really making a difference. 

What changes do you hope to see within our community over the next five years?
Over the next five years, I really want to see the island grow the local farming sector. Whether that be large-scale farming or small-scale community farming, the ability to sustain the island’s population is critical. I also believe farming has great potential to bring individuals together to form stronger and more resilient communities. 

How do you think we can go about growing local farming sectors especially in the urban landscape of Oahu?
That’s such a hard question. We cannot sustain our population here. If something happened like a natural disaster or a pandemic (Covid-19) and we couldn’t open the ports, we wouldn’t be able to feed and sustain our entire population. Local farming also raises another question: how good, nutritious, fresh, and safe is the imported food we’re getting? It travels from the farm, on the boats, and then delivered to the stores. We live in an environment that’s so urban now and continuing to urbanize in places all throughout the island. I think we really need to focus on new ways of farming including vertical urban farming, for example. Even growing your own vegetables and what you can in your own yard. That’s really the freshest and the best it’ll get. We also have to think about preserving the land that we have for agriculture. 

How do you feel about “aloha ‘āina”? What does it mean to you? Why is it important?
When I think about aloha ‘āina, it brings a smile to my face. It really is a full circle that allows us as individuals to show love and gratefulness towards not only a place, but also people. I believe it’s so special and important because it doesn’t exclude any gender, race, or personal belief and it has the power to bring people together no matter where an individual may be coming from.

How do you personally practice this?
As a student, I believe educating myself is my way of practicing aloha ‘āina. This place I call home has a rich history. Being able to learn about the places I have become familiar with growing up has been extremely eye-opening. I wish to be able to somehow bring some aspect of how the place received its name, notable people related to the place, or the use and practices of the place back into its environment today.

Has hula played any role in your interest and understanding of the environment and aloha ‘āina?
Hula has definitely been my second outlet allowing me to learn about places throughout my home. Through hula, I am able to learn about places and people, and then tell stories through chants and dances. Having the opportunity to learn from my kumus is a gift. They continue to pass down knowledge that was passed down to them – it truly is a gift. And let’s not forget that hula is also special because it has brought me together with some awesome hula sisters who all embrace the concept of aloha ‘āina and have their own special touch to their own practices. 

Why is hula important to you?
Hula is so important to me because my friends are there for one. But more importantly it gives me a connection, sense of place, and grounding. It provides me a connection to my home and what existed here before me – before my family and ancestors came here. It really connects me to the land, the culture, and the people.

Other than hula, how are you staying healthy during this time of stay at home orders and social distancing?
Definitely by working out! Whether I go on a run in my neighborhood or practice some yoga at home, I set some alone time by myself. Besides working out, staying home has definitely created extra time and I’ve been trying to make homemade products that I usually buy – hummus, granola, and baked goods – which also helps to cut out the amount of processed foods I eat. It’s helped me realize I should be making these things on my own because it’s really not that difficult and it’s much fresher. 

What does a typical work or school from home day look like for you?
I’ve started a new routine where I wake up early at 6AM, get ready, and usually go for my morning walk to wake myself up. I have to walk in the morning to wake myself up. Then, I try to do a little school work for an hour. If I have to work, I’ll do homework from 7AM and hop on work at 8AM. If I have class, I’ll try to get as much homework done before I have to log onto Zoom. Then, I’ll go through my day until around 4:30PM. I’ll then find time to work out and that’s pretty much it. I really try to stay off TikTok throughout the day – that’s a big one. 

Do you have any tips on surviving virtual grad school?
Make friends. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask when you need help. Definitely turn your camera off on Zoom when they allow you to. And don’t start a debate on zoom.

What is a favorite quote or life motto that keeps you inspired?
Trust and engage with the process. 

If you could share one piece of advice to the world, what would it be?
Be thankful that you have the ability to be reading this, now go out there and make a difference for the better!

Where did we have coffee? More like a sunset picnic on the beach – socially distant of course. We had a little photoshoot during twilight hour to celebrate her recent graduation! How cute are these photos?