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Column by the Chancellor in Hawaii Tribune-Herald: August 2010

Column by UH Hilo Chancellor Donald O. Straney
UH Hilo Today
Hawaii Tribune-Herald
Aug. 2010

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Seizing Opportunity

As I go about meeting the faculty, staff and students at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and the community-at-large, I am often asked why I sought the Chancellor’s job when it meant leaving my position as Dean of Science at Cal Poly Pomona. My reply is, “why not?” Ask any number of my colleagues in the higher education community and they will tell you UH Hilo is positioned for a great future.

One advantage this campus has over larger universities is its role and impact on the community it serves. At Cal Poly Pomona we had an enrollment of 20,000 students, serving 12 million people throughout the Los Angeles basin. With an area and population of that size, the university’s impact on the greater community is anybody’s guess.

Here, with our enrollment of 4,000 students serving approximately 178,000 Big Island residents, the impact is much more obvious. The parents who enroll their children at UH Hilo, the businesses that hire our graduates and those who support us with their time and hard earned money can see first-hand how we meet the educational and economic needs of the community.

Another aspect I found appealing is the university’s progressive outlook. UH Hilo’s desire to grow in spite of the current state of the economy is uncommon, yet wise from my point-of-view. We all recognize the need for belt tightening when you lack the money to do what you are used to. But belt tightening by itself is a recipe for remaining poor. At some point we must prepare to take advantage of an improving economy. We may not be able to do everything we’d like, but experience tells us that the first to recognize and seize an opportunity reaps the greatest benefits and sets the pace for those who follow.

As a recent arrival, it would be presumptuous of me at this point to spell out a long-term vision for this campus and what its fulfillment would look like. That vision will emerge in part from talks with faculty, staff, students and the community as well as our new strategic plan that is now being developed. At the heart of these discussions are some basic questions I consider central to this University:

1) How do we enhance student success?

2) How do we meet the educational needs of the entire island?

3) What are the priority directions UH Hilo should take?

The answers to those questions will largely determine the university’s vision, its mission and what this campus will look like in five to ten years.

We begin this process from a position of strength, as my findings have validated UH Hilo’s reputation as an inventive, well-run institution, moving in the right direction with very little that needs fixing. That is a testament to the vision and achievements of former Chancellor Rose Tseng, along with the faculty and staff who carried out that vision while maintaining high standards and developing practices that keep the university running well. I’m looking forward to helping shape the future of this fine university.

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