Skip to content →

Remarks by the Chancellor to the Rotary Club of South Hilo

Remarks by UH Hilo Chancellor Donald O. Straney
Rotary Club of South Hilo
Feb. 8, 2011

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo:
Helping to Build the Future of Hawai‘i Island

Aloha!

Today I’d like to share my thoughts about the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and what I’ve discovered during my first seven months as chancellor. It’s been an extraordinary learning experience. I’ve discovered that UH Hilo is a university in its own right, and I’ve found a good deal to admire.

Professor with student
UH Hilo faculty is engaged in both teaching and scholarship, providing a very high quality education to our students.

Let me start out by saying I think UH Hilo is an incredibly strong university. We’re blessed with very high quality faculty who could work elsewhere but choose to work here. The faculty is engaged in both teaching and scholarship, providing a very high quality education to our students.

For example, Professor of Philosophy Ron Amundson is studying the ethical impact of the Human Genome Project. Associate Professor of Biology Elizabeth Stacy is doing research, with her conservation biology graduate students, on the biology of lehua ‘ohi‘a. Professor of Marine Science Karla McDermid is a foremost authority on the nutritional and medicinal uses of seaweeds. Professor of Biology Bill Mautz is researching the impact of pollutants on amphibians. Professor of Psychology Vladi Skorikov studies mental health issues of adolescents. And Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Science Andre Bachman is researching new anti-cancer drugs.

Group of students
Enrollment trends continue upwards. This spring semester, we have 2.5% more students than last spring, bringing us to 4,000 students.

Enrollment trends continue upwards. This spring semester, we have 2.5% more students than last spring, bringing us to 4,000 students. 70% are from Hawai‘i, 23% are Native Hawaiian. Freshman: 25% from O‘ahu, 25% international. Growth trajectory: 3-5% a year, especially in regard to retaining continuing students.

I’m fortunate that UH Hilo’s strategic plan expired last year, since it gives me the opportunity to work closely with the campus and community to re-envision our future and rethink our course. Strategic planning is serious undertaking. Our new plan must have a very clear definition of our vision and mission, clear enough to guide us for the next five to ten years: vision, mission, framework and priorities.

Our key strategic goals are: 1) Graduate students faster, for example 15 to finish, and summer tuition scholarships, 2) Deliver programs across the island, for example the North Hawai‘i Education and Research Center in Honoka‘a, West Hawai‘i Campus and 2+2 programs, and 3) Enhance work life on campus, for example streamlining signatures, improving communications, providing shuttles.

In the next few slides, I’d like to talk about our strong comparative advantage.

Class listening to professor at white board.
Comparative advantage: Our small classes are key. They allow students to have the personal attention of PhD faculty who are active scholars in their fields.

Our small classes are key. They allow students to have the personal attention of PhD faculty who are active scholars in their fields. Teaching and scholarship are integrated, and our faculty regularly collaborate with students on research and service projects.

I think of UH Hilo as a “practical university,” one that prepares students well for meaningful and productive careers here at home that will help build our island economy and strengthen our island communities.

Two students working in the campus gardens.
Our island is the best place in the world to study environmental and marine science, astronomy and volcanoes, sustainable agriculture, indigenous and Hawaiian language and culture revitalization, and rural health delivery.

Our island is the best place in the world to study environmental and marine science, astronomy and volcanoes, sustainable agriculture, indigenous and Hawaiian language and culture revitalization, and rural health delivery. There is a strong “sense of place” in these types of fields, and they all present opportunities for our graduates to make lifelong contributions to their own communities and help build a prosperous future.

UH Hilo is more than an institution of higher education, it has a major impact on the island’s economy. A recent estimate is that UH Hilo contributes about $240 million to the economic activity of the state. But our first commitment is to the economic impact here, on our island.

The university employs 610 people and stimulates an additional 3,900 jobs in our local communities. UH Hilo’s University Park of Science & Technology: $900 million in investments, creates 400 jobs.

We’re building many opportunities to attract start-ups to Hilo. UH Hilo’s University Park of Science and Technology is the 5th largest industrial and high tech park in the state at 425 acres (120 currently developed). Along with the USDA, current tenants include astronomical base facilities of Subaru, Smithsonian, UH Institute for Astronomy, Cal Tech, Gemini and Joint Astronomy Centre. Downtown Hilo: UH Hilo’s Hawai‘i Innovation Center is a small business incubator.

A fundamental question that we ask ourselves throughout the strategic planning process: Who are we? UH Hilo is quickly growing beyond 4,000 students. We offer a wide range of liberal arts, professional and graduate programs typically found at larger universities. We focus on student learning, offering students small classes and the personal attention to PhD faculty who are active scholars and who regularly collaborate with students on research and service projects.

But, as you know, the current fiscal situation in state government presents a challenge. Governor Abercrombie said in his State of the State address, “the canoe could capsize,” and “we could all huli.” The challenge is statewide: state government needs to make up $844 million shortfall in next two-and-a-half years. UH Hilo has a 22% reduction in general funds. One of our greatest challenges: limited on-campus housing.

Our strategies during these difficult times include maximizing our comparative advantage in the higher education marketplace that I spoke of earlier; maximizing diverse revenue streams such as extramural grants (more on next slide), fundraising and other income; and to build capacity for increased enrollment (summer sessions, retention, residence halls).

UH Hilo is proactive in generating some of its own income. I’m extremely pleased to see how hard our faculty and staff work to pursue and implement extramural grants. The total for last fiscal year ending June 2010 is $27 million—the highest ever. This year, we have the College of Pharmacy’s Beacon Community Grant $16 million to support health information technology on the island of Hawai‘i.

Professor showing students how to take blood pressure on volunteer.
Planning is underway for Doctor in Nursing Practice.

Despite a challenging budget situation, we are moving forward on some exciting new initiatives: Rural Health Care Center, planning underway for Doctorate in Nursing Practice, and three Pharmacy degrees: BA in Pharmacy Studies, MS in Clinical Psychopharmacology and PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences. More in process, stay tuned!

Science and Technology Building, three story.
Science and Technology Building is near completion.

We continue to strengthen our infrastructure and capacity. This activity also stimulates jobs through construction projects. Our beautiful new $25 million Science and Technology Building is nearing completion! Astronomy/Physics and Chemistry departments will move into the building.

Rendering of Student Services Building, two story, glass front, red roof, students on walkway.
Rendering of Student Services Building.

We are committed to serving our students in the best ways possible. We just broke ground on our new $19 million Student Services Building a couple of weeks ago. The new facility will be on par with national trends with student services centrally located under one roof, giving our students cohesive, effective support in every way possible: admissions, registration, advising, counseling, career development, health promotion and more.

Our island is the best place in the world to study indigenous and Hawaiian language and culture revitalization. We are committed to strengthening and growing these programs. With $28 million in funds released by the governor last year, we will break ground on the $72 million award-winning College of Hawaiian Language building on February 12. It will be a grand celebration. I say award-winning because the Honolulu chapter of the American Institute of Architects gave WCIT Architects the design award for this building in the “Commissioned Work to be Built” category. The building and landscape will reflect Hawaiian culture and Big Island natural resources. I hope you’ll join us for the groundbreaking at the Nowelo Street site this Saturday, February 12 at 9 A.M.

Before closing, I want to share exciting news on the horizon at our College of Pharmacy. The college will graduate its first class of student pharmacists this May. Four years ago, these students could not have studied pharmacy on the island of Hawai‘i. This class is living proof that not only can Pharmacy be studied here, but students can work with faculty recruited from across the world for their skills and abilities as scientists.

Rendering of College of Pharmacy buildings, curved dome roof line.
Rendering of College of Pharmacy facilities.

Our Pharmacy faculty teach as well or better than at any other school in the country. This class launches what I know will be a long line of distinguished PharmD alumni making excellent use of the knowledge and skills gained at UH Hilo. Once this class graduates, full accreditation of the college is expected in June. On the slide is a rendering of the planned permanent building to be located at Nowelo and Komohana streets.

There is so much more I could share! Also on the horizon is our University Village.

I hope that gives you a sense of what is happening at the UH Hilo campus. We have a number of challenges ahead, but I truly believe we’ll be able to do a lot to advance our university this year.

Thank you for your support. You’ve made me feel welcome and I look forward to working with all of you to strengthen higher education opportunities for our island.

Published in All Posts Remarks, Messages, & Writings