Business Monday: Accounting UH-Hilo grad enters the Big Island workforce

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Among the 500 young adults who donned caps and gowns this weekend for the University Hawai‘i at Hilo graduation was 18-year-old Nikki Jicha.

Left to right: Nikki Jicha, UH-Hilo graduate, working as an intern at Taketa, Iwata, Hara & Associates. Jicha graduating on May 12, 2024. Photo courtesy: Nikki Jicha

Double majored in business management and a certificate in business analytics, Jicha is already integrated into the Big Island workforce as she’s been working as an intern for Hilo-based accounting firm Taketa, Iwata, Hara & Associates.

Jicha is the youngest intern the firm has ever hired. She also accepted an official job offer with the company in April where she will join the team in the auditing sector full-time.

With the cost of living rising in Hawai‘i, more young people are leaving their island home to pursue careers on the mainland. This is a trend county leaders hope to stop. Additionally, UH-Hilo does its part to create opportunities for its graduates by working with local businesses in providing internships.

Todd Inouye, director and chair of the College of Business and Economics, said students graduating from the program, which was established in 2004, have been contributing to the local economy by creating new businesses and getting employed by existing businesses.

The College of Business and Economics advisory board members like HPM, Hilo Fish Co., as well as Taketa, Iwata, Hara & Associates, have numerous alumni employed and these local businesses continue to recruit new graduates and have established internship programs with the college.


The business college graduated 129 students on Saturday, 58 of whom got degrees in accounting, including Jicha. Inouye, who is also an associate professor of management, said the 2024 class was unusually large compared to recent years.

Homeschooled by her mother, Jicha said she started college in 2020. All classes were online at the time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was always interested in math,” Jicha said. “I wasn’t quite certain what I wanted to but I took an Introduction to Accounting class and fell in love with it.”

Jicha describes accounting as the language to communicate financial information adding she would like to teach others to understand financial data.

During her internship at the accounting firm, Jicha said she worked in the auditing sector where she reviewed company financial statements.


Jicha will enroll online at Western Governors University where she plans to complete her master’s degree in the next six months and become a Certified Public Accountant, also known as CPA.

Jicha plans to stay within the Hawaiian Islands or Big Island as she continues her professional career.

Jicha said it felt amazing to get her degree.

“I view it as the stepping stone I need to achieve my goal of becoming a CPA; it is one step closer to my main objective,” the Hilo woman said. “To be honest, I don’t really consider my age. I feel more like a senior in college than an 18-year-old, and sometimes, I tend to forget about my age because I don’t really feel its significance in my day-to-day life.”

Jon Arbles, partner of the audit assurance department and CPA at Taketa, Iwata, Hara & Associates, supervised Jicha during her internship.


Jicha is one of the first interns the firm has taken on since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arbles said Jicha is unique because she is willing to learn and listen. He didn’t expect the 18-year-old to be willing to take on new tasks beyond the scope of her education.

While accounting may not be a sexy profession, Arbles said it’s proven to be “recession-proof.” “You always need an accountant,” he said.

Arbles said the firm feels fortunate they can offer Jicha an opportunity, adding the recent graduate has proven to be polite, professional and asks questions when she needs help.

During her time as an intern, Arbles said Jicha was taught a wide range of topics from fixed asset schedules to investment accounts and some of the nuances of investments and auditing investment accounts.

“It’s not something that comes intuitively but she’s able to do it,” Arbles said of Jicha.

Andrey Simonov, professor of accounting at UH-Hilo campus, first had Jicha in his accounting auditing class in the fall 2021. He also supervised Jicha’s internship.

“She’s an excellent student she’s one of the top students academically. She’s very respectful and has good social skills and is mature,” the professor said.

Simonov said the UH-Hilo business school has steady enrollment. Students are encouraged to intern and get opportunities and experience in the community.

“We have a lot of successful stories of students getting job offers after their internships,” Simonov said.

Inouye said enrollment at the business college has been steadily increasing (by 1-3%) post-pandemic.

“There is a well-known national enrollment cliff approaching in 2025,” Inouye said. “For the next 5-10 years after that, enrollment is expected to drop by as much as 15% overall.”

For many institutions, local birth rates and increasing tuition costs have already negatively impacted enrollment.

“UH-Hilo and CoBE [College of Business and Economics], is an outstanding value in terms of resident tuition, and I honestly believe it is worth it for students to invest in their own post-secondary education,” Inouye said.

Inouye said the college continues to re-invest in its students.

Recently, they implemented a text messaging platform to improve communication with business students, and are currently looking to hire a staff member to increase capacity in both student academic advising and college event planning.

On April 26, the college hosted its first student-run awards ceremony where local business leaders were able to directly recruit “our best and brightest soon-to-be graduates.”

“When our students succeed, we succeed and so we will continue to support them throughout their academic journey,” Inouye said. “So while we may not be focusing on direct enrollment into our college, our retention of students is a focus and that has supported our overall enrollment.”

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