Monday, October 26, 2015

Helping to make better communities

Sonavie Ong, Director of the Office of Sponsored Projects (OSP), finds gratification in the work she does — grants administration — knowing it helps Hawai‘i Pacific University, its students and the broader community.

“When I see how beneficial a project is to everyone, it gives my job more meaning,” she said. “It goes beyond checking that (the researchers) have their i’s dotted and t’s crossed.”

Ong is responsible for overseeing the administration of grants — primarily federal funding — totaling approximately $3-5 million annually. The staff provides pre- and post-grant award support to HPU researchers. This includes finding new grant funding sources, which is the primary responsibility of Mark Canney and Cynthia Thurlow, Research Administrators.

The three-member OSP team works with various researchers including Scott Okamoto, Ph.D., (Social Work), who is the principal investigator for a National Institute of Health R01 grant funding the study of substance abuse prevention for Hawai‘i Island youth. The staff also works with Kristi West, Ph.D., (Biology and Marine Science), who engages with a team of HPU students and community members in marine mammal stranding research, and Brenda Jensen, Ph.D., (Biology), who provides a tissue bank for the stranding samples. 

A highlight for Ong last year was collaborating with two HPU student interns on a Hawaii Energy grant. The students, under the direction of Art Whatley, Ph.D. (Global Leadership and Sustainable Development) and HPU Facilities Project Coordinator Dingilizwe “Clarence” Ncube, were shepherding a grant funding energy conservation outreach.

“I really do enjoy the students, and I wish I had more interaction with them,” said Ong. “My goal and HPU’s goal as a university is to support the students.”

Currently, the OSP team is making a concerted effort to find more funding for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and also support for underrepresented students.
Office of Sponsored Projects staff Mark Canney, Sonavie Ong
and Cynthia Thurlow

When asked how she chose this line of work, Ong said she happened upon the field and learned on the job.

“With the changing world of federal compliance, it’s not something you learn in school,” said Ong.

She was introduced to grants administration at the University of Maryland, working as the business manager for the Department of Veterinary Medicine. She held this job for more than 10 years and oversaw the business operations and grants for the department.

In 2008, she had the opportunity to move to Hawai‘i to take a grants position at a biomedical research company. One of her sisters was already living in Hawai‘i, and Ong liked the weather, people and lifestyle.

By 2010, she joined Hawai‘i Pacific University as its grants manager and has been with OSP since then, expanding her scope of responsibility.

With HPU’s mission to offer an international learning community set in the rich cultural context of Hawai‘i, it is very fitting Ong — a global citizen herself — is at the university. She was born in Cambodia and lived as a child in France, Uruguay and Maryland. On living in Hawai‘i, she said it “feels like home here.”

Outside of work Ong enjoys standup paddle boarding, kayaking and hiking. She also volunteers for causes like Make-A-Wish, Lantern Floating Hawaii, Ronald McDonald House Charities and Lanakila Meals on Wheels.

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