When I first visited the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo nearly a year ago for my interview, I was asked what I might do in the first six months, and my response was, “listen.” In the months since I arrived, I have had the opportunity to meet with some business leaders and community groups, and with the arrival of the faculty back on campus, I have started visiting the various units on campus as well. There are so many good ideas and so many people of good will. My “listening tour” will take months to complete, but I’d like to share a recent event with you that shows so well the collaborative spirit of our campus ‘ohana.
On Sept. 20, Hawai‘i Community College Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas hosted me and others from UH Hilo for a joint wala‘au or discussion about the future of our campuses (photo of us at wala‘au at top of this column). Faculty, staff, and administrators from both campuses were invited to share their mana‘o and their vision of the future for Hawai‘i Island’s students, particularly transfer students. Specifically, we focused on ways to build strong pathways of student success between Hawai‘i CC and UH Hilo.
Over soup and sandwiches, we discussed strategies to smooth the way for students interested in transferring from Hawai‘i CC to UH Hilo. It was an exciting session filled with hope for the future of our students and Hawai‘i Island.
People shared examples of what is working, and some shared stories about successful classes and spaces, and about hardworking support staff helping students struggling with the transition.
We also identified areas still to work on: aligning curriculum and our learning expectations, so that students who move from one institution to the other do not lose any time toward completing their degree; minimizing the paperwork for transfers, and even better, imagining what dual enrollment might look like. What if a student could be admitted to both schools at the same time and just move seamlessly from one to the next at the appropriate time? Indeed, when we took a poll among those in attendance, “seamless” was the word most often mentioned as what we would like the students to experience as a successful transfer.
Some of the people at the wala‘au shared programs they were working on that might accomplish that seamless transition. The energy and good will in the room was palpable. I met faculty and staff who have worked at both campuses, and they shared what they thought we could improve, and along with the two chancellors and our teams, committed to working together in the future.
Other highlights from the listening tour thus far:
- Meeting the Vulcan Booster Club and seeing their enthusiastic support for our student-athletes
- Learning about the partnerships our Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science graduate program has with local and state agencies
- Sitting down with our marketing committee to chat about how we can better tell the story of UH Hilo
- An open meeting with students in which I could hear their concerns directly
- Talking with staff of the Division of Student Affairs and learning how we can build on the excellent programs we have and build even better support for our students outside the classroom
- Touring Hale‘olelo, the College of Hawaiian Language, and seeing the ways in which we are helping to revitalize Hawaiian language and culture
- And many other meetings with faculty and staff from departments throughout campus
At the core of these meetings and discussions I consistently find in people a deep sense of commitment and dedication to our students and a feeling of hope for the future. I want to thank each and every one of you for your support of our students and for constantly striving to improve our services, curriculum, and community outreach. We need to be open minded about how we deliver education and I look forward to more discussions, more sharing, and more learning over the coming months.
Bonnie D. Irwin
Photo at top, from left, Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas and Chancellor Bonnie Irwin at wala‘au, Sept. 20. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri.