East Hawaii News

Deceased UH Hilo Student Honored Through Writing Award

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Matthew Therrien, a UH Hilo student who was tragically killed in a car accident on April 6, 2014, is being honored through an award recognizing outstanding English students at UH Hilo.

Dr. Stephen and Gloria Gainsley, who are friends of the Therrien family, donated a $5,000 gift establishing the Matthew Somchai Therrien Award.  The award serves to remember Matthew’s legacy of creativity and service, while recognizing and encouraging other UH Hilo English students.

“By initiating the Matthew Somchai Therrien Award we wish to honor both Matt’s talent and love of writing, as well as the loving family who inspired him,” said the Gainsleys.

Stephen and Gloria met the Therrein family during their college years at UH Mānoa in the 70’s.  They stayed connected through an annual newsletter written by each member of the Therrien family, which included photos and articles described as “hilarious” and “sometimes serious.”  The family activity may have been the inspiration for Matthew’s own passion for creative writing, according to the Gainsleys.


Matthew’s dream was to become an English professor, and he actively mentored youth in the local community.  A Wisconsin native, he first attended the University of Wisconsin before joining AmeriCorps in Seattle to work with students facing life challenges.  After moving to the Big Island, Matthew continued his community work on the regional board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hawai`i Island, and with the Boys & Girls Club.

His talent as a writer was widely recognized at UH Hilo by faculty and students.  In 2012 he received the Droste Award for a collection of original poems.

“Matthew Therrien was an extraordinarily gifted, multi-faceted, delightful student, who inspired not only his fellow students, but also his teachers to continue to think, write, and learn,” said Kirsten Mollegaard, UH Hilo English department chair. “The UH Hilo English department is grateful to the Gainsleys for their generous gift, which will be used to commemorate Matthew Therrien’s legacy by promoting excellence in writing among our English majors.”


Matthew’s father Mark Therrien said his son loved English, and used writing as a medium to express his passion for social justice.

“Matthew believed that dialogue was the only way to end racism – to acknowledge its existence, to not be afraid to talk about it or write about it,” he said.  “Matthew was not afraid.”

To contribute to the Matthew Somchai Therrien Award, visit www.uhfoundation.org/givetouhh, or contact the UH Hilo Development Office at (808) 933-1945.

Therrien shown on the right during a Boys and Girls Club of the Big Island Youth of the Year Event.  Courtesy photo.

Therrien shown on the right during a Boys and Girls Club of the Big Island Youth of the Year Event. Courtesy photo.


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