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UH Hilo employs innovation to trump economic adversity

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Date: Friday, September 11, 2009
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642

For Immediate Release

Growing enrollment and a shrinking budget is forcing many to do more with less as the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo strives to maintain the quality of its educational product. But as one class has discovered, a little creative ingenuity can sometimes overcome the most daunting challenge.

Dr. Randy Hirokawa, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, faced a dilemma as he prepared for his Communication 270 class, “Introduction to Theories of Human Communication.” The class, which is a required course for Communication majors, and an elective for other students, has grown in popularity with some 70 students enrolled this fall. But the absence of a classroom large enough to host a class of that size had Hirokawa facing the prospect of turning away students who might need the class to graduate.

“It was a real problem,” Hirokawa explained. “UCB 100 and the Wentworth lecture hall were the only large multi-media classrooms that could accommodate classes in excess of 50 students, which are becoming more common. But we have other programs that rely heavily on those facilities so they weren’t going to be available, and without them there was no way we could admit all the students who had signed up.”

A potential solution emerged during a meeting of the Enrollment Management Implementation Team (EMIT) committee when Housing Director Miles Nagata offered the use of the Hale Kehau Dining Room, which serves meals at night but sits empty during the day. The room was certainly large enough to accommodate Hirokawa’s class, but there was still the matter of equipping it for multi-media use.

“This class requires a lot of electronic bells and whistles, including a full sound system, a microphone, a projector, DVD player, document producer, podium and a screen,” Hirokawa said. “We were easily looking at a price tag of about $25,000.”

Given the state’s current budget crunch, the chances of getting a purchase of that magnitude approved ranged somewhere between slim and none. But as luck would have it, it wasn’t needed. Older versions of the equipment Hirokawa needed were about to be discarded after being replaced by newer, more efficient models prior to the economic downturn. Much of the equipment was in need of repair, but Office of Technology and Distance Learning Specialist Bob Chi was able to fix, modify and install the equipment at virtually no costto the University.

“We were really lucky to have equipment on-hand that could be utilized,and someone on staff with the technical expertise to make it a reality,” Hirokawa said. “As a result, we created an honest-to-goodness green classroom where old equipment that was about to become e-waste is once again serving our students.”

Hirokawa’s class is the only one currently being held at Hale Kehau, but it could be made available to other departments in need of a large capacity classroom. It could also be used for movie nights or other activities that require large, multi-purpose rooms.

An end of the semester evaluation will be conducted to obtain the views of students on the use of the room. So far, students appear satisfied with the accommodations where dining tables serve as desks. But the ultimate decision will rest with Housing, which retains jurisdiction of the facility. For now, Hirokawa is pleased that a way could be found to meet the needs of his students.

“That’s 20 students we were able to accommodate, who might have otherwise been turned away,” Hirokawa said. “I think this is a great example of how we can create a win-win situation under difficult circumstances if we’re willing to think outside the box.”

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