UH student emerges from dark place to achieve academic honor

  • 5836754_web1_National_Collegiate_honors-copy.jpg
  • 5836754_web1_unnamed.jpg

A Hilo native has received a national award for her seniors honors thesis describing trauma she experienced in her childhood.


A Hilo native has received a national award for her seniors honors thesis describing trauma she experienced in her childhood.

The University of Hawaii announced last week Brandy Dobson is a recipient of the 2017 Portz Scholar by the National Collegiate Honors Council. The award is the organization’s top prize for undergraduate honors students. Dobson, 39, is one of four students nationally to win.

“It’s crazy,” Dobson said Thursday during a phone interview with the Tribune-Herald. “I still can’t believe it. I had intended (my memoir) to be a small thing that I share with my family some day. And it kind of blew up and it’s still very surreal. I’m still processing it but I’m grateful, that’s for sure.”

Dobson said she grew up in Hilo but often traveled back and forth in her youth between the Big Island and Oahu. She now lives on Oahu and recently graduated from UH-Manoa with a bachelor’s degree in English with honors.

She said she wrote the memoir to meet a thesis requirement to graduate from the English honors program. Colleges are allowed to nominate one paper written to the Portz Scholar competition each year. She said her memoir, titled “A Murmur in the Weeds: A Memoir” is “a story about survival.” She said it “mirrors the way trauma happens” and describes abuse she experienced in her childhood.

UH English professor Cynthia Franklin nominated Dobson’s memoir for the award.

“I thought it was a really excellent thesis,” Franklin said Thursday. “It was unusually courageous and creative and had very high stakes … She’s just an extraordinarily generous and caring person and I think that generosity (is apparent in) her thesis.”

This is the second consecutive year a student from Hawaii has won the Portz Scholar award. Last year it was awarded to Jonathan Omuro, also a UH-Manoa English student.

As a winner, Dobson will get a small stipend and an opportunity to present her thesis during the National Collegiate Honors Council’s conference in Atlanta in November.

Dobson is a mother of five children. She said she decided to return to school several years ago to hone her writing. Ultimately, she wants to use her degree to write children’s and young adult books. She said she also wants to start a small group for women to write their own stories of trauma.

She said in her memoir she wanted to share her story “as a way of coping and making meaning” through writing. She said she eventually wants to finish and publish the memoir.

“It’s so important to tell your story,” she said, when asked what advice she’d give young people experiencing trauma.


“And it’s important to know there are people who are willing to listen. You can’t give up. For me, it was finding faith, finding God and my husband and taking this journey to find people who will listen and provide support … There are many people who have been in dark places and felt alone and I think you should just know you are never really alone.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.