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UH Hilo Chancellor's Blog Posts

Recruitment launched for vice chancellor for academic affairs

Aloha UH Hilo ‘ohana,

The recruitment for the vice chancellor for academic affairs position is now launched by the national executive search firm WittKieffer.

Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Mahalo to all of you who participated in the leadership profile forums held on January 27. WittKieffer and the search committee have been moving the process along to complete the search by the end of this spring, with the new vice chancellor in place in the fall.

Bonnie D. Irwin

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UH Hilo community is invited to “Brown Bag with Bonnie,” an informal gathering, Feb. 12

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

The campus community is invited to an informal gathering with University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Chancellor Bonnie. D. Irwin.

This month’s “Brown Bag with Bonnie” will be held on Wednesday, Feb.12, 2020, noon to 1:00 p.m. at the Student Services Center (above), room W201.

Bring a brown bag lunch for this informal talk-story gathering.

Chancellor Irwin holds Brown Bag events every month or so. For more information, contact University Relations.


Photo of Student Services Center by Raiatea Arcuri.


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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Feb. 2020: Walking the equity walk

If we hold as a basic tenet that our foremost kuleana is to support all students, then we need to discover the areas where we can improve equity on campus.

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

Last fall, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo was ranked by US News & World Report as the most ethnically diverse campus in the country. This rating followed another in the Chronicle of Higher Education 2018 Almanac that named UH Hilo the most ethnically diverse four-year public university in the nation. This comes as no surprise to those of us who live in this diverse state where many of our communities and universities rank highly in this category, but lately we have been talking about what this ranking means, and, more importantly, what it could mean.

Across the country, universities talk about the need to support all students regardless of their race or ethnicity, and across the board, we all can do better. A new book, From Equity Talk to Equity Walk: Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education, teaches us to expand our knowledge and tools to better support all our students. Drawing from campus-based research projects sponsored by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California, the authors challenge educators to specifically focus on racial equity as a critical lens for institutional and systemic change.

In our case, we are rightly proud of our diversity ranking, but this does not mean we can rest on our laurels. The very structures and systems of universities privilege certain students over others, and make it difficult for students who are first generation to attend college to thrive and succeed at the rate of their more privileged peers. If we hold as a basic tenet that our foremost kuleana is to support all students, then we need to discover the areas where we can improve equity on campus. We absolutely, positively do a lot of diversity and gender equity initiatives well, but how do we accidentally discourage students along the way?

I strongly believe all students can thrive when each has full access to all the support, encouragement, and resources needed to succeed. I believe a love of learning and a growth mindset is contagious given the chance, and that it is our job to create an academic environment where all can succeed. Right now I am looking at our curriculum, our processes, and our support programs to discover who shows up and who succeeds, and how do we expand that success to more of our students?

For examples, let me share with you two initiatives—one an academic program that has just received a prestigious national award for its stellar success at inclusive excellence and diversity, and one still in the visionary stage that seeks to establish a hub on campus to coordinate all existing diversity and equity programs.

The Department of Kinesiology and Exercise Sciences has been awarded the 2019-2020 Inclusive Excellence Award from the American Kinesiology Association. The national award honors the department’s commitment to inclusiveness in its recruitment, retention, hiring, curriculum development, and administrative structure, specifically noting the diverse student make-up of the KES program: 84 percent come from diverse ethnic backgrounds, of which 35 percent are Native Hawaiian.

Of great interest is that enrollment in the KES program has increased over the last 15 years by over 500 percent. Today, it is the largest undergraduate academic program at UH Hilo with six faculty advising and teaching over 200 students. Of note is that the nominator of the award, Jennifer Stotter, director of our Office of Equal Employment and Affirmative Action, believes the success of KES is largely due to the faculty’s commitment to Uluākea, a program that trains faculty to develop curricula that includes Hawaiian cultural and linguistic applications in support of all-inclusive and place-based education. She also notes that KES faculty have been active supporters of Hawai‘i Papa O Ke Ao, a UH systemwide initiative supporting an indigenous and Hawaiian approach in teaching, research, and service.

Meanwhile, a group of diversity and equity experts at UH Hilo—Director Stotter, Director of Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center Gail Makuakāne-Lundin, and Chair of the UH Hilo Diversity Committee Dana-Lynn Ko‘omoa-Lange—have drawn up a proposal for a Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that would coordinate existing DEI programs for students and employees (support services, resources, training, professional development, curriculum, research and scholarly activities, community partnerships). Although the plan did not receive the originally sought funding, I think this is an idea we should keep alive and continue to explore implementing.

Thank you all for your hard work, dedication, and support in making UH Hilo not only the most diverse campus in the country, but also in our striving to lift up all students to their greatest potential.


Bonnie D. Irwin


Photo at top of post: Standing with students from the incoming class of Fall 2019, Aug. 22, Campus Center Plaza.

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Invitation to Meet Search Firm for UH Hilo Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Jan. 27

Aloha UH Hilo ‘Ohana,

After several months of the RFP process (development, review & selection), a professional search firm has been contracted effective Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, to assist in the search for the next University of Hawai‘i at Hilo vice chancellor for academic affairs. WittKieffer is a national executive search firm with nearly 50 years of experience. The search is expected to be completed by the end of spring 2020, with the new vice chancellor in place in fall 2020.

You are invited to meet with WittKieffer team members to share perspectives on campus priorities; qualities and attributes important in the next vice chancellor for academic affairs; and other important information to assist in the search process.

Two sessions are scheduled for Monday, Jan. 27, 2020:

Faculty & Staff Session 1: 9:00am – 10:00am
Faculty & Staff Session 2: 2:00pm – 3:00pm

Both sessions will be held at the University Classroom Building, room 127.

Please join us as we would very much like to hear from our UH Hilo faculty and staff.

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Jan. 2020: New Year brings renewed energy

The next year promises to be a busy and exciting one, a time for collaborating more with one another and with the local community to move our university into the future.

Aloha and Happy New Year!

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

The spring semester will be a busy one at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo: we will be working on searches to stabilize our administrative staff and we will be moving into the planning stages of our new strategic plan.


Four major searches will be underway soon: a permanent vice chancellor for academic affairs, deans for the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Natural and Health Sciences, and also a dean of students. All of these positions will bring us increased stability and help us to improve our support for students.

This month we welcome on board a new director of institutional research, thereby doubling our staff in this area! I am pleased to announce the appointment of Bradley Thiessen, Ph.D., as our new director of institutional research effective Jan. 2. Dr. Thiessen has over fifteen years’ experience in higher education. He has established offices of institutional research twice in his career and has led institutional assessment efforts at three different institutions. He also has served as a faculty member in statistics, earning tenure at two institutions and advancing to the rank of professor in 2014.

Brad’s extensive background and experience will be extremely valuable to our university as we move UH Hilo into the future. This is especially important this year, as we move from the pre-planning stage to the planning stage of our new strategic plan. We’re going to move forward driven by our values—notably diversity and collaboration—but also informed by data. And Brad will be instrumental in analyzing the data to identify emerging trends and prioritizing goals and tactics.

Strategic plan

Too often strategic plans remain merely plans, sitting on a shelf or posted on a website and soon forgotten. For that reason, in addition to building on our foundation blocks of values and data, the new UH Hilo plan will be organized around “strategic doing,” the process of collaborative, action-oriented planning that moves us toward measurable outcomes, all the while making necessary adjustments along the way.

Further, and perhaps most importantly, the main areas of focus will be on people, namely our students, and in our sense of place, meaning that strong identity we share with our local community and our island home. In other words, our students and the incredible place in which we live will be at the center of everything we do in the strategic planning process.

The plan will also be informed by the many conversations that have taken place over the last year or so—the listening tour headed by our strategic planning project manager Kathleen Baumgardner. The listening tour was a series of meetings with various stakeholder groups from across and beyond campus, with sessions that engaged people with diverse perspectives, and encouraged robust conversations that sparked fresh ideas.

In addition, the plan will be informed by what I have learned on my own listening tour, which I began as soon as I arrived in July and will continue through at least February. What I have learned so far:

  • Almost every promising practice regarding student success exists somewhere on our campus, but few of them are institutionalized.
  • Everyone at UH Hilo genuinely cares about students, even if we practice that care in different ways.
  • There are many good ideas on how we might improve what we do.
  • There is a craving among people to find ways to work together, across the boundaries of academic disciplines and across the divisions of the campus.
  • Our common ground is larger than our differences.
  • The biggest challenge may not be what we do next, but what we stop doing in order to free up some time and energy for the initiatives we want to undertake.

The next year promises to be a busy and exciting one, a time for us to take stock, gather and analyze the data, connect with one another in meaningful dialogue, and to think of innovative ways to collaborate more with one another and with the local community to move our university into the future.

I wish you all a Happy New Year. Be well, stay safe, and do good work in the world.

Bonnie D. Irwin


Header photo: Flowering tree on the UH Hilo campus. Photo credit: Raiatea Arcuri.

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