Stories of Excellence 2014-15

What is "excellence?" Excellence are these students, faculty, and alumni, who embody UH Hilo's strategic goal – to prepare students to thrive, compete, innovate and lead in their professional and personal lives. A quality education at UH Hilo is more than a promise, it's illustrated in the accomplishments of our students, faculty and distinguished alumni. Here is just a sampling of the wide range of achievements that members of our UH Hilo ‘ohana have accomplished throughout the year. Achieving excellence is an opportunity for every student at UH Hilo. We invite you to join us in celebrating these UH Hilo Stories of Excellence...

UH Hilo Student & Faculty Collaboration

Pharmacy students

Dr. Tam Vu & Alexandria Nakao-Eligado - Department of Economics Chair (Dr. Tam Vu on left) and Political Science and Economics student (Alexandria on right)

There is a popular misconception that most state-run undergraduate universities don’t offer many hands-on opportunities for students in their fields. Dr. Tam Vu, the Chair of the Department of Economics at UH Hilo, wants to change that. She believes in making the University a "flipped" institution - one that takes students out of the classroom and into the real world, where they learn valuable lessons and provide community services, all at the same time. In order to reach this goal, Vu utilizes student assistants whenever she can to help complete her projects. Most recently, Vu was asked by the Volcano Art Center to determine if local visual artists make a meaningful contribution to the Big Island economy.

This project applied the knowledge of econometrics - the use of mathematics and statistics to make conclusions from economic data. At that time, Vu was teaching a course on Intermediate Macroeconomics; Alexandria Nakao-Eligado, a Political Science and Economics double major, was taking Vu’s class and had also previously taken her Econometrics class. Vu helped the Volcano Art Center collect data. She and Alexandra then compiled and analyzed it, producing an eight-page professional paper documenting their research.

The result? They found that local visual artists make a large contribution to the per capita and household income of the state - i.e., when visual artists are successful, they contribute to the economy overall. This information is an incredible resource, not only to the Volcano Art Center, but to the local government as well. One of the findings of the paper was that if government funded artist events or festivals, it could result in a large influx of money entering the Hawaiian economy.

In June 2014, Vu decided to submit their report to the Academic and Business Research Institute (AABRI), a major academic conference organizer. The AABRI, after reviewing the paper, decided to invite Vu and Nakao-Eligado to Honolulu to present their work at the AABRI conference, enabling them to communicate their research on a larger scale, as well as publish their paper as a conference proceeding. The Volcano Art Center ultimately used their findings to write a report they submitted to the County of Hawai‘i.

This kind of hands-on experience is crucial for student résumés, applications for graduate school, and when competing for internships. Nakao-Eligado's research collaboration with Dr. Vu gave her a huge advantage, giving her relevant experience in the field she is planning on entering. Vu is trying to create as many opportunities as possible for every student to get that same level of participation in their learning. Just recently, she had her class produce the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Hilo. Her students visited various super markets, department stores, gas stations, and other businesses in Hilo to calculate the cost of living index – something that had never been done here before. They found that Hilo is the seventh most expensive city to live in the entire country, Honolulu being the second most expensive, after New York. In this instance, each of her students received hands-on experience collecting data and analyzing it, all while benefiting the local community.

Regarding student involvement and participation, Vu has this to say to potential students: “Because [the university] has small classes, it makes it easier to help students when they initiate any project. Many students want to do things, and at this school it is easy for them to do so.” The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo makes it easy for students to start their own ventures and learn in a hands-on environment. When students pioneer a project, they have great support staff to help them take it to fruition. And when professor and student efforts are combined with the Office of Applied Learning Experiences (ALEX), students are given many opportunities to dip their toes into the waters of their future careers.

Read more information about the Economics program at UH Hilo.