Skip to content →

Interim Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Jan. 2019: Helping our island and state grow into the future

We at UH Hilo take seriously our kuleana to help provide the workforce for new growth sectors in our economy, the scientific experts to help conserve the precious environment of our island and state, and the technological resources necessary for our communities to meet unexpected crises.

By Marcia Sakai

Marcia Sakai
Marcia Sakai

Aloha and Happy New Year!

I look forward to the coming year as progress and growth continues at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. I’d like to focus this month’s column on a major goal of the university: to strengthen UH Hilo’s impact on the community, island, and state through responsive higher education, community partnerships, and knowledge and technology transfer.

Responsive higher education

The new building to house the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy is well on its way to completion in July. The modern classrooms, offices, student services, and laboratories will answer the great need for state-of-the-art facilities to train the pharmacists who will serve communities in our state and region.

New building to house the UH Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy, under construction, Dec. 11, 2018. Photo by Tracy Niimi.

Last month, our new bachelor of science in aeronautical sciences program was approved by the UH Board of Regents. There are two tracks: one in commercial professional pilot training and the other in commercial aerial information technology (drones)—both are projected workforce needs in the state. The pilot training track is cost effective compared to mainland programs. The drone track trains students for growing career opportunities in agriculture, natural resource management, search and rescue, security services, and expected air transport services.

UH Hilo launched its long-planned data science program this past fall by offering a certificate in the fast-growing field. The program is filling a need in the state because almost every branch of science collects massive amounts of data, but there are not a lot of trained people able to analyze that data and make conclusions—for example, here on our island, there is a great need in conservation efforts, water resource management, and climate change research.

Partnerships

Partnerships are key to conducting effective scientific inquiry into 21st century challenges. Here is an example in the field of conservation biology, specifically research to save the endangered ‘alalā (Hawaiian crow) from extinction.

alala
One of the recently released ʻalalā. Photo San Diego Zoo Global.

In collaboration with a Silicon Valley company that provides sophisticated genomic analysis systems, geneticists at UH Hilo and San Diego Zoo Global have fully sequenced the genome of the endangered ‘alalā. Once reduced to a population of about 20 birds, the sequencing of the species’ genome will be important to track any genetic challenges that may occur due to the reduced genetic diversity now seen in the species. This is an extremely important contribution to conservation genetics. The genome assembly is now publicly available.

Currently, the UH Hilo geneticists are collaborating with researchers from California, New Zealand, and Australia to do a genetics study addressing the hatching failure of the ‘alalā and the endangered kākāpō of New Zealand.

Another research team, this one from the UH Hilo Bioacoustics Lab, recently received a $50,000 award from the Disney Conservation Fund to work in collaboration with the ʻAlalā Project, a partnership between the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, San Diego Zoo Global, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to find out if captively reared ‘alalā are developing new vocalizations as they adapt to new situations encountered in the wild. This information will greatly assist in the conservation efforts of ʻalalā.

Knowledge and technology transfer

UH Hilo’s response to the recent lava flow in Puna is a good example of the university sharing its expert knowledge and technology resources for the benefit of our local communities.

As the lava threatened vulnerable communities, Hawai‘i County Civil Defense reached out to UH Hilo’s experts in drone technology to do high-resolution mapping of the flow areas. Government responders needed to pinpoint exact locations of the advancing lava, and the UH Hilo drone team was able to capture overhead shots, and then quickly relay that information to Civil Defense.

Another research team from UH Hilo conducted real-time chemistry analysis of lava samples that helped determine how the lava would behave and how fast it would move. The data provided critical information to the U.S. Geological Survey scientists responding to the natural disaster. The samples were collected daily from the flows, bagged and dated, and brought back to the Hilo campus for analysis. It was the first time scientists looked at the chemistry at the same time the volcano was erupting.

Yet another research team provided precise leveling of the ground around the Puna power plant to detect whether the surface was rising due to the flow of magma beneath the surface. The monitoring would alert officials if the facility was about to be compromised.

The longer-term scientific value of the data collected by these research teams helps government officials better understand these types of eruptions so that responders can do an even better job of predicting in the future.

Thinking ahead

We at UH Hilo take seriously our kuleana to help provide the workforce for new growth sectors in our economy, the scientific experts to help conserve the precious environment of our island and state, and the technological resources necessary for our communities to meet unexpected crises. By working together with our local communities and in collaboration with myriad partners, we help improve the quality of life for everyone.

Wishing you a happy and productive 2019!

Marcia Sakai
Interim Chancellor

Published in All Posts Remarks, Messages, & Writings