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Column by the Chancellor in UH Hilo’s Newsletter: Ka Lono Hanakahi, February 2012

Message from University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Chancellor Donald O. Straney

Ka Lono Hanakahi, UH Hilo’s Faculty and Staff Newsletter 

February 2012

UH Hilo hosts Community Vision Summit

One of our greatest accomplishments in 2011 was the university ‘ohana and surrounding local community working together to develop UH Hilo’s new Strategic Plan. The long term plan gives us a pathway to the future and guides us as we start 2012, placing strong emphasis on our kuleana, our responsibility, to improving the quality of life for our island’s people and our local community as a whole. One of the ways to honor this commitment is to strengthen partnerships and collaborations, share our understanding, and work together with the community to discover innovative ways to educate our citizens and grow our economy.

In December, I invited 27 leaders from our community—representatives of education, health, technology, business, local government, and community non-profits—to convene for a Community Vision Summit. The discussions were lively and fruitful, focusing on the strategic directions of UH Hilo in the coming years. The group talked about their shared vision of our island’s future, and how to build two-way relationships to reach our common goals.

Working together, the participants provided helpful guidance about the university’s role in strengthening our community. The importance of UH Hilo’s role in the P-20 education system was emphasized. There was a great sense of people wanting to work together to provide education and life-long learning opportunities matched to workforce development needs. In addition, emphasis was placed on undertaking research and development relevant to the people, environment, and culture of our island and state.

The discussion identified three key areas where UH Hilo could have the biggest impact on improving the quality of life on our island:

1.  Be a Catalyst for Local Economic Development

A common concern was the Hawai‘i island economy and high unemployment. Participants observed that many local students must re-locate because Hawai‘i island does not have sufficient employment opportunities. Participants highlighted the role UH Hilo might play in building connections with local industries that could let students apply what they are learning to the workplace. Participants recommended this be achieved through educating and training local students to move into the island’s growing industries in health care, energy, agriculture and information technology. As these conversations expanded there emerged a larger recurring theme of UH Hilo as a “driver” for Hawai‘i island economic development, with UH Hilo not only taking the lead on the new job trends but also communicating this to the community. Participants felt this would produce a “fire in the belly” for motivation in education.

2.  Bridge Our Island’s Multiple Sectors

One focus of discussion was the role that UH Hilo can play as a champion for dialogue between multiple sectors. Participants recommended the university develop an economic engine model that is rooted in the culture, values, traditions and community of the island, one that connects the university, K–12 education, industry, community, and policy. Participants also recommended public-private partnerships that enhance applied learning with feeder programs, where opportunities can enhance student retention. It was suggested the university start small by using successful programs, i.e., linking UH Hilo’s nationally-recognized computer science program with projects based in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM fields) that include the Thirty Meter Telescope’s future development, Hawai‘i Community College’s technology education, local high schools’ career academies, and Hawaiian culture with ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

3.  Strengthen Community Relationships

While bridging across sectors was identified as important, equally so was the need to strengthen and maintain such relationships over time. Particularly noted was the need for the university to actively strengthen and maintain reciprocal relationships with local businesses, government, and non-profits to empower higher education and workforce development. For example, internships with small businesses to fuel student ambition and problem-solving capacity, build entrepreneurial skills, creativity, and critical thinking. It was also suggested that UH Hilo could help strengthen community relationships by empowering students to utilize local products in order to encourage local entrepreneurship and provide opportunities to create more jobs.

The Community Vision Summit was a great success and I appreciate the time and effort made by everyone. I was reminded that the greatest resource we have is the people of our island—when we put our minds to it, we can work together to create a bright future for our island and state.

This summit is the first of a series of meetings where I plan to hear from different parts of the community about ways UH Hilo can drive local economic development, bridge our island’s multiple sectors, and strengthen the university’s relationships with the community.

You can read a full summary report on the summit and other news from the Office of the Chancellor on my blog.

Don Straney