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UH Hilo Chancellor's Blog Posts

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Sept. 2023: Updates on two UH Hilo colleges

Bonnie Irwin pictured
Bonnie Irwin

Although I usually focus on University of Hawai‘i at Hilo as a whole, there is a lot going on in our six colleges that shows where we are going and the impact our university has on our community, and I’d like to focus on them for the coming months’ columns. The College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management, for example, both provide excellent opportunities for students to learn and grow.

College of Arts and Sciences

The College of Arts and Sciences offers a wide range of undergraduate programs in social and earth sciences, political science, sociology, the arts, language, history, and more. It also houses the School of Education that offers two master degree programs that directly impact our local communities—one prepares students to become teachers, the other fosters professional growth of current teachers. Other graduate programs are in counseling psychology and heritage management, also of great benefit to our local communities. Several certificate programs help students round out their skillset.

Michael Bitter pictured
Michael Bitter

Leading the college is Michael Bitter, a professor of history who taught at UH Hilo for 17 years before becoming interim dean of the college several years ago; he is now the permanent dean. He’s been working on a variety of initiatives designed to improve student support as well as faculty and staff success. He’s also actively engaged in promoting the expansion of academic programs and collaborating with the Center for Global Education and Exchange to increase exchange opportunities for UH Hilo students to study at partner universities, both nationally and internationally.

The research and internships happening at the college are often inter-related; it’s not unusual for students to work alongside researchers, gathering and analyzing data, with their names included on published studies in leading journals, reflecting their contributions to this important work. Much of this research directly affects our island communities and environment, for example, students are working closely with faculty on investigating mental and physical health issues of combat veterans and firefighters, timely work given the recent wildfire tragedies on Maui.

The College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management

Norman Arancon pictured
Norman Arancon

The College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management is now under new leadership. Norman Arancon, who started his work as director of the college over the summer, is a horticulturalist who joined UH Hilo in 2008. He specializes in sustainable agriculture, horticulture, crop sciences, agroecology, and organic agriculture. His research on vermiculture and vermicomposting is recognized and valued internationally, and the totality of his expertise is of great benefit to the Hawai‘i agricultural community.

He’s also been very involved in college affairs and the UH Hilo community, with student success a high priority. I know he will make an excellent leader for the college.

The college offers baccalaureate degrees in three areas: animal health and management, including a pre-veterinary option; aquaculture; and tropical agroecology. The college also offers certificates in beekeeping and equine science. Overall curriculum includes classroom work plus hands-on, practical, technology-based education at the university’s agricultural farm laboratory in Pana‘ewa.

In this college, too, faculty and students are conducting research of great importance to our island and state agricultural communities as well as the public at large. For example, students are working closely with researchers investigating the feasibility of growing substantial amounts of “energycane,” sugar cane used for its biomass as a source for jet fuel—groundbreaking research happening at the farm lab that has the potential to impact local farmers, the state’s sustainability goals, and the local economy.

This college also provides a home for our new aeronautical science program. We celebrated the first two graduates last spring, and the program is being offered provisionally beginning this fall. There are two pathways: the pilot pathway is the first step in a lucrative career as an airline pilot; the aerial information technology pathway leads to professional certification as a commercial drone operator. Professional pilots and drone operators are much needed locally, nationally, and internationally, and this program will produce skilled graduates ready for the workforce or advanced training.

I’m excited about the changes and growth happening at these two colleges, and I look forward to updating you about our other colleges in future columns.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Faculty and staff are invited to next University Forum, Aug. 23

Poster: University Forum, with flags

Faculty and staff at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are invited to the next University Forum scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, Noon to 1:00 p.m., via Zoom.

Join Zoom Meeting:

Zoom link:
Meeting ID: 960 4702 8431
Passcode: 538021

Questions may be submitted in advance to Alyson Kakugawa-Leong.

Call the Office of University Relations for additional information.

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Message from the Chancellor: Supporting those affected by Maui wildfires


UH Hilo seal, red lettering University of Hawaii and the state motto.I am sure you share my care and concern for our Maui neighbors and the devastation their community is experiencing from the wildfires. We want everyone in our university ‘ohana who is being impacted to know we are thinking of you and are ready to help as best we can.

On our local campus level, I have asked members of our campus community to please kōkua those who have ʻohana affected, and exercise patience with students who may be arriving late from Maui or distracted by events.

The Division of Student Affairs is working with their counterparts across the UH System to support students. At UH Hilo, the following people are ready to provide assistance:

I encourage those of you who have the will and ability to donate, to consider these options (there are others as well):

The County of Hawaiʻi administration is assembling a task force to see what UH Hilo can do to help, not only for short term needs, but also with mid- to long-term recovery. I will share information about what kind of role the university might play in these efforts once I learn more. If you have ideas along these lines, please feel free to share them with me.

Be well,

Bonnie D. Irwin
University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, August 2023: The importance of peer mentoring

Bonnie Irwin pictured
Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin

When I was a faculty member, one of my colleagues used to say that students do not aspire to be like their professors; they aspire to be seniors. Graduation is the goal, and one of the things that helps students get there is hearing from their peers. To that end, UH Hilo is involved in a number of peer mentoring activities, which allow students to learn from students.

For example, at the student-designed Ka Pouhana Mentoring Program, university student mentors team up with faculty members to give individualized support to local high school students as they start their years at UH Hilo. The program is modeled on a number of successful student-led and partnership mentoring models as well as research on adolescent development and student support conducted by Margary Martin, an associate professor at UH Hilo’s School of Education.

Since fall 2022, 10 faculty mentors and peer mentors at Ka Pouhana have provided foundational support to about 50 first-year students from Hawaiʻi Island during their first two years at UH Hilo. It is a cohort model where both seasoned students and faculty focus on imparting a sense of belonging and wellbeing to new students while also nurturing leadership development and a strong sense of service to the community.

Another way for students to connect with peers and faculty is through UH Hilo’s First Year Experience program, which organizes orientation for new students at the start of each semester. A big part of FYE is facilitating the Mentor Collective, a “start to finish” resource of mentors (peers, faculty, staff) designed to help students build a strong foundation for academic and social success. This personal outreach really imparts a clear understanding that our university community is ‘ohana to each and every student.

An avenue for Native Hawaiian students to find support is through the Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center, which promotes Native Hawaiian student success through culturally appropriate services and activities, including peer mentoring. The Ho‘olau peer mentor service is offered to first-year students and transfer students to help them navigate their new university life. Tutoring services are offered in Hawaiian studies, the sciences, hula, and other fields. Kiha Stevens, a student mentor for Kīpuka, describes the center as “a home away from home, and a family away from family.” For many, Kīpuka provides this sense of ‘ohana, where students can find both academic and cultural mentors to help them on their UH Hilo journey.

We also engage our graduate students with undergraduates, notably in the sciences and education, where mentorship, knowledge, and inspiration are freely exchanged. For example, undergrads in our Keaholoa STEM Scholars Program are working with graduate students in both the heritage management program and the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program. Heritage management grad students Shania Tamagyongfal and Jerolynn Myazoe and environmental studies undergraduate Tromainne Joab are working together on research into oral histories of Marshallese and Yapese voyaging. Graduate and undergraduate students at the School of Education are jointly participating in local ‘āina-based experiences to enhance respect and understanding of place.

This type of learning environment—where more experienced students reach out to mentor up-and-coming undergraduates in the spirit of community and ‘ohana—also benefits the mentors. Actively introducing someone less experienced to new information (social or academic) or to the whole culture of academia in general, or working with someone less experienced in a research project where peer mentors can impart skills they have already learned, helps the mentor retain that knowledge, helps those skills become ingrained. Mentor and mentee benefit mutually and much more successfully than if each were siloed off into only reading text books and listening to lectures. This is why we practice hands-on learning and peer mentoring.

At UH Hilo, we are guided by the wise words, ʻaʻohe pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi (one learns from many sources). In our mission to challenge students to reach their highest level of academic achievement by inspiring learning, discovery, and creativity inside and outside the classroom, one of the most successful sources of learning is peer mentorship.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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