Skip to content →

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Aug. 2019: Good partners are key to success

Last month I spent several days meeting with our state legislators, asking them about current issues in the community and pondering how the university might help address them.

By Bonnie D. Irwin

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

Our primary mission at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is to educate our students and graduate responsible citizens, lifelong learners, and productive employees. Beyond that, we also have talented staff and faculty who contribute greatly to the civic and social fabric of our community, and who can lend their expertise to any number of issues including public health, K-12 education, economic stability, natural disasters, climate change, environmental conservation, sustainable agriculture and more.

Last month I spent several days meeting with our state legislators, asking them about current issues in the community and pondering how the university might help address them.

And I heard about a lot of needs.

Transportation and accessible housing are island-wide concerns, as is health care, including mental health services. General economic development in the form of small businesses, co-ops, and new industries also is of interest.

And while the university alone cannot solve all the issues we face in the state, we can form partnerships around some of the biggest, most urgent needs, and I will be spending the coming weeks learning more about UH Hilo’s capacity to contribute.

I am just learning about our faculty and their areas of applied research, and some of the projects I have seen in this first month have impressed me greatly. Geographer Ryan Perroy is using drones and remote sensing devices to detect Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death; his research just won a prestigious $70k prize for innovative techniques. Infectious disease scientist Susan Jarvi is researching rat lungworm in East Hawai‘i and how we might combat its spread. Faculty and staff at Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language are revitalizing Hawaiian language and culture, providing a shining example of success to other indigenous communities throughout the world.

These projects and the work done by many others from our campus community have demonstrated to me that our faculty and staff have much to offer. And they are lifting up the next generation through our many undergraduate research experiences that give students the opportunity to apply what they are learning in class to real world needs.

I am also excited to learn about Vibrant Hawai‘i, a collective impact movement, from Rachel Solemsaas, chancellor at Hawai‘i Community College. Vibrant Hawai‘i is just taking hold here to address the hardships experienced by breadwinners and families with limited liquid assets such as cash or a savings account. These households are especially vulnerable when faced with emergencies such as a costly auto repair, a natural disaster, or health issues. I have seen the power of collective impact partnerships in California, and I am eager to find out how UH Hilo might engage in this important work to address the needs of our most disadvantaged citizens.

I am also proud to learn that UH Hilo is a designated participant in Blue Zones Hawai‘i, encouraging our campus community to e ola pono. Blue Zones is a nationwide initiative taking place in several states to promote healthy living and long lives. The Blue Zones concept of healthy living is modeled on the best practices of places in the world where people live longer by reaching the age of 100 while enjoying a high quality of life. A number of businesses and organizations are working together in Hilo to create a Blue Zones community by adopting healthy best practices. This collaborative project promotes healthy minds and healthy bodies, and serves as a model for communities throughout the country to follow.

None of these accomplishments at our university is possible without the support of the community. In my July column, I wrote about the campus now working on a collaborative plan to achieve our highest of aspirations in helping the island with its needs—economic, educational, and cultural—while also protecting the ‘āina through sustainable activities. I look forward to learning more about our campus and our surrounding community, and working toward strengthening UH Hilo’s contributions to our island and state’s most urgent needs.

Thank you all for your support.


Bonnie D. Irwin


Photo of UH Hilo University Classroom Building by @bdirwin Instagram.

Published in All Posts Remarks, Messages, & Writings