It is the university’s responsibility to take the lead in stewardship of regional economics, education, and improving the quality of life for all our island citizens and their communities.
As I begin my tenure as chancellor at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, I find a campus community hard at work preparing to develop a new strategic plan. Through a series of over 40 discussions that began last fall with faculty, staff, students and the local community, information is being gleaned and groundwork laid to produce a collaborative plan to achieve the highest of aspirations.
My favorite definition of leadership is that it is a process of moving an organization from its current reality to its aspirations. My first task at UH Hilo is to listen and learn what the campus and community aspirations are and then focus our energy toward achieving them, all the while making sure we are ambitious enough in those aspirations to really help the island with its needs—economic, educational, and cultural—while also protecting the ‘āina through sustainable activities.
I take this responsibility to heart. I strongly believe in the concept of regional stewardship for comprehensive universities: i.e., that a primary mission of our campus is to lift up the region, in this case Hawai‘i Island. One of the reasons I wanted to come to UH Hilo is because of our unique cultural emphasis in programs and curriculum, notably the acclaimed work being done to revitalize Native Hawaiian language and culture for the benefit of not only Hawai‘i’s indigenous people but also everyone in the state. The future of our university and our local community are inextricably linked.
Let me share some thoughts about where my attention is already focused.
I envision UH Hilo as a gateway for upward mobility. This means educating and preparing our students for meaningful employment that not only brings them a high quality of life but also lifts up their families and communities. One effective way to prepare students for important regional work is to increase student engagement in applied learning and independent research for benefit of the community and the environment; UH Hilo already excels at this in several fields and I would like to explore ways to open up this opportunity to even more students.
Traditionally we think of higher education as preparing young women and men for their future, but national trends are moving toward developing a new higher education model that also meets the needs of non-traditional students returning to finish a degree. This is a challenge facing universities throughout the country and if we want to stay current, we will need to adapt to this emerging trend not only to properly serve our region but also to thrive as an institution of higher education.
Woven into advancing the university to meet the needs of a modern student population is the challenge to improve retention and graduation rates. I support wholeheartedly the current ongoing efforts at UH Hilo to develop best practices to enable students to pursue their aspirations with purpose and confidence through to graduation and beyond, whether the student wishes to further her or his education or launch a meaningful career. I look forward to working with faculty and student affairs professionals to develop and strengthen innovative and effective ways to meet this challenge.
I am pleased to see UH Hilo placing a high importance on practicing, teaching, and researching sustainability and protecting the ‘āina, both on campus and in our island environment. Every student has a role to play—now and in the future—to help heal the emerging environmental crises facing our island, state, and Pacific region, and the university community and our graduates should be leaders and role models in this field.
We cannot achieve our aspirations alone. Building on partnerships with the local community, government agencies, and non-profit organizations, along with strengthening UH Hilo’s relationship with Hawai‘i Community College and partnering more with the Pālamanui campus, are crucial to all our success.
It is the university’s responsibility to take the lead in stewardship of regional economics, education, and improving the quality of life for all our island citizens and their communities. I start my new position as a chancellor ready to listen, learn, and collaborate as we prepare a new strategic plan for the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.
Bonnie D. Irwin
Photo at top by Raiatea Arcuri: UH Hilo main entrance at West Kāwili Street.