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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Nov. 2019: About our responsibility to the community

By Bonnie D. Irwin

Bonnie D. Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

Our island recently lost a true pillar of the community with the passing of Barry Taniguchi. Our island and state mourn with Barry’s ‘ohana as we honor his extraordinary dedication to our island’s communities and to the health and well-being of our island’s people.

Barry’s legacy is an inspiration to us all to persist in our pursuit of building and strengthening our island communities for the benefit of all. After attending his funeral and hearing all the moving eulogies, I came away with a profound sense of responsibility to the community, thinking about how we all must step up to fill the void he’s left behind; I felt inspired to help move the community forward.

So here I would like to communicate some of the ways the UH Hilo ‘ohana is serving our community, driven by the goal of bettering this place in which we are privileged to live. I’ll also share some thoughts about how I envision expanding and strengthening our outreach into the future.

Economic development

Through consultation with community leaders throughout the region, UH Hilo adjusts and develops academic programs to meet workforce needs. We’ve seen this in recently established baccalaureate programs in accounting and environmental science, graduate programs in conservation biology and heritage management, and doctoral programs in nursing practice and Hawaiian and Indigenous language and culture revitalization. Graduates from these programs are professionals woven into the fabric of our communities, doing the work that improves the quality of life for everyone.

When talking about regional economic development, it’s important to note the important work of our business college alumni. Graduates from the College of Business and Economics are managers, financial advisers, accountants, bankers, entrepreneurs, and business professionals who help our local citizens with their personal and professional business needs.

Looking ahead, programs in the planning stage are baccalaureate degrees in the emerging fields of aeronautical science and data science. In speaking with our nursing and pharmacy faculty, I have learned of our work in integrated health care and rural health, where health professionals working in teams are needed to provide the best level of service. We are also assembling a group on campus to start financial literacy programming in order to help our students and their families not only navigate the costs of college, but also prepare to be fiscally responsible citizens.

I look forward to working with Hawai‘i Community College Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas and other regional leaders to determine how best our institutions can continue to prepare a workforce for the future.

Regional sustainability

Between our campus composting program, energy reduction efforts, and agriculture and science programs, UH Hilo is modeling sustainable practices and continually looking to improve these practices. We are doing our part in helping our island home become more self-sufficient, utilizing the expertise of our faculty and staff, and inspiring our students to find new ways of stewarding our environment for future generations.

As part of our strategy to implement the UH System Sustainability Policy, we’re looking to increase courses that integrate sustainability through ‘āina- and culture-based curricula and activities such as service-learning and undergraduate research. Our students benefit greatly from a learning environment that speaks to our island culture and is infused with local languages, protocols, values, wisdoms, expertise, and ways of knowing about sustainability.

P-20 education

Education is our core business, of course, and we partner with local schools in numerous ways. ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center is inspiring thousands of island keiki to pursue science through the lens of Hawaiian culture. I had the opportunity to visit Pūnana Leo o Hilo and Ke Kula ‘O Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu to see our language revitalization efforts in action in Hawaiian immersion schools. I have learned about the various fitness and athletics activities, from sports clinics staffed by our student athletes to the children’s swim program that our campus recreation department hosts every summer. And, of course, our School of Education continues to provide training and continuing education for local teachers.

Civic education

I often say that if we cannot have respectful conversations about controversial issues on a university campus, it probably won’t happen anywhere. We not only model how to do this, but teach our students the value of respect and empathy for others. We partner with local professionals in this work, and this is an area upon which we can build, especially at a time when our country and state are dealing with weighty issues about which there are many perspectives. I hope to expand these efforts to encompass community dialogues.

I look forward to learning more about the needs of our communities, island, state and region, and doing all I can to position and adapt UH Hilo to help bring an exciting and bright future to all. Mahalo for all your support.

Aloha,

Bonnie Irwin

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