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Blessed by a shortage of workers because of the pandemic, Peni Kioa lives his dream working an on-campus construction internship

landscape photo of couple posing with one another in front of Laie Hawaii temple
Peni and Judy Kioa in front of the Laie temple.

Peni Kioa, a BYU–Hawaii alumnus from Tonga, became one of only two BYUH students to work as a project engineer for all of the University’s construction projects. His internship, which he said was a blessing during the challenges of the pandemic, has led to him receiving multiple job offers to work as a construction project engineer for construction companies on the mainland.

“I came here with a dream to be a construction management person,” Kioa said, emphasizing how a lack of resources, including not being able to get the degree he needed, did not stop him from living his vision.

Trusting in the Lord

Kioa said he grew up fascinated with the buildings in Tonga. He always dreamed of managing construction, he said, but did not have the money to go to BYU in Provo or Idaho where they offer construction and facilities management degrees. “My only chance was the IWORK program,” Kioa said.

Trusting the Lord would provide a way to follow his dream, he said he studied mathematics and physics at BYUH as an IWORK student because they were the closest he could get to construction management at BYUH. He said his major couldn’t guarantee an internship or a job, which was a problem because he needed internship credits before he could graduate.

After finishing his courses, Kioa said he applied for every construction management internship he could, looking for a company that was willing to hire him with only a math degree. “I went everywhere, and they all had the same common response: ‘I’m sorry. You don’t have the construction management degree, and for that reason, we cannot accept you for the internship.’”

Kioa explained how he did everything he could. “After I did my part, I thought, ‘It’s time to give it to the Lord.’” He said he fasted and prayed he would be able to find an internship that would accept him.

He said after he asked the Lord for help, “There was a vacancy right in the Special Projects Department for the Church, and they were looking for a potential employee in construction for the internship.”

Blessed by the pandemic

The vacancy opened right when the pandemic hit, travel stopped and many students went home, he explained. Because students from the mainland could not come to Hawaii to do the internship, Kioa said it left him as the best candidate for the job.

Peni Kioa’s wife and BYUH hospitality and tourism alumna from Tonga, Judy Kioa, said she and her husband are beyond grateful to Kirk Tyler, Peni Kioa’s boss, who hired him for the internship. “We are grateful to our Heavenly Father for sending this angel our way,” she said.

Peni Kioa said the internship is everything he ever dreamt construction management would be. “I am still speechless. This was a dream of a young boy. Now it’s a reality. I have such a debt to BYUH and also the Church for this opportunity.”

He said he knows a lot of students from the islands who dream of technical degrees like construction management, carpentry or mechanics, but because BYUH doesn’t offer those majors, students limit themselves and do not pursue degrees at BYUH.

He urged students not to give up. “Just keep persisting because [people can] never know how the Lord will bless [them]. There are a lot of opportunities out there.” He explained it doesn’t matter what people have, all that matters is what they do with what they have. “Just keep pushing. If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

Current and past projects

During his internship, Peni Kioa said he helped manage building the faculty duplexes on Moana Street, the Na Hale Kumu faculty housing by the temple and the Science Building. He said he also helped manage the construction of the new TVA housing and Banyan Dining Hall.

He said as a construction project engineer, he and his team work on behalf of the Church and cooperate with the contractors, such as Okland Construction and Jacobsen Construction to facilitate the building projects.

About 30 percent of his time is spent in the office creating reports and going to owners, architects and contractor’s meetings, he added. “We spend most of our time outside on the job site because we do most of our learning in the field.”

Peni Kioa explained he checks the safety and performs quality checks and assurance on the job site, which means he checks and assures the quality of construction projects like drywall and concrete. He said he also collaborates with engineers, the BYUH campus architect and owners on-site.

He gave two Ke Alaka’i employees a special tour of the sites he worked on, including the Science Building and Banyan Dining Hall. He said the palm trees in front of the Science Building were transplanted from the conservation site behind the hales of the campus.

The “pinnacle” of the tour, he said, is the roof of the science building, which overlooks the flag circle, giving a sweeping view of the palm tree lined campus and the ocean.

Upon entering the new cafeteria, Peni Kioa warned employees not to faint from surprise. He said the new cafeteria features a pizza bar, smoothie bar and grill and will be able to fit up to 500 people, including outdoor seating and a second floor.There is a special VIP room on the second floor of the building where devotional speakers will eat and people can hold meetings, Peni Kioa explained.

Character in construction

Judy Kioa described her husband as hardworking. “I am very proud of him.” She said he supports their family with his job while keeping his priorities straight. “Family comes first” for him, Judy Kioa said.

Adam Brown, a project management intern from Utah who graduated from BYU in Provo, said, “Peni’s awesome. He’s super cool to work with.”

Brown said Peni Kioa goes out of his way to help people without expecting anything in return. “We’ll be driving somewhere and he’ll see someone that needs a ride on the way to where we’re going, and he’ll pick them up,” Brown explained. He said Peni Kioa’s eyes are always open to see how he can serve others.

Peni Kioa said his internship in Laie ends soon and he has multiple job offers to work as a construction project engineer for construction companies on the mainland. “I came here with a dream to do project management, and I started helping manage the project here.”

He said his job is especially meaningful because he gets to build buildings in which his children and grandchildren will likely be educated. He said he is not building BYUH for himself, but for future generations.

He said he loves to think he is helping to fulfill David O. McKay’s revelation. “I started shifting my focus. I’m building this for the benefit of my kids, my grandkids and all the thousands of students who are my brothers and sisters in the South Pacific.” •