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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Jan. 2020: New Year brings renewed energy

The next year promises to be a busy and exciting one, a time for collaborating more with one another and with the local community to move our university into the future.

Aloha and Happy New Year!

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

The spring semester will be a busy one at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo: we will be working on searches to stabilize our administrative staff and we will be moving into the planning stages of our new strategic plan.

Administration

Four major searches will be underway soon: a permanent vice chancellor for academic affairs, deans for the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Natural and Health Sciences, and also a dean of students. All of these positions will bring us increased stability and help us to improve our support for students.

This month we welcome on board a new director of institutional research, thereby doubling our staff in this area! I am pleased to announce the appointment of Bradley Thiessen, Ph.D., as our new director of institutional research effective Jan. 2. Dr. Thiessen has over fifteen years’ experience in higher education. He has established offices of institutional research twice in his career and has led institutional assessment efforts at three different institutions. He also has served as a faculty member in statistics, earning tenure at two institutions and advancing to the rank of professor in 2014.

Brad’s extensive background and experience will be extremely valuable to our university as we move UH Hilo into the future. This is especially important this year, as we move from the pre-planning stage to the planning stage of our new strategic plan. We’re going to move forward driven by our values—notably diversity and collaboration—but also informed by data. And Brad will be instrumental in analyzing the data to identify emerging trends and prioritizing goals and tactics.

Strategic plan

Too often strategic plans remain merely plans, sitting on a shelf or posted on a website and soon forgotten. For that reason, in addition to building on our foundation blocks of values and data, the new UH Hilo plan will be organized around “strategic doing,” the process of collaborative, action-oriented planning that moves us toward measurable outcomes, all the while making necessary adjustments along the way.

Further, and perhaps most importantly, the main areas of focus will be on people, namely our students, and in our sense of place, meaning that strong identity we share with our local community and our island home. In other words, our students and the incredible place in which we live will be at the center of everything we do in the strategic planning process.

The plan will also be informed by the many conversations that have taken place over the last year or so—the listening tour headed by our strategic planning project manager Kathleen Baumgardner. The listening tour was a series of meetings with various stakeholder groups from across and beyond campus, with sessions that engaged people with diverse perspectives, and encouraged robust conversations that sparked fresh ideas.

In addition, the plan will be informed by what I have learned on my own listening tour, which I began as soon as I arrived in July and will continue through at least February. What I have learned so far:

  • Almost every promising practice regarding student success exists somewhere on our campus, but few of them are institutionalized.
  • Everyone at UH Hilo genuinely cares about students, even if we practice that care in different ways.
  • There are many good ideas on how we might improve what we do.
  • There is a craving among people to find ways to work together, across the boundaries of academic disciplines and across the divisions of the campus.
  • Our common ground is larger than our differences.
  • The biggest challenge may not be what we do next, but what we stop doing in order to free up some time and energy for the initiatives we want to undertake.

The next year promises to be a busy and exciting one, a time for us to take stock, gather and analyze the data, connect with one another in meaningful dialogue, and to think of innovative ways to collaborate more with one another and with the local community to move our university into the future.

I wish you all a Happy New Year. Be well, stay safe, and do good work in the world.

Bonnie D. Irwin

 

Header photo: Flowering tree on the UH Hilo campus. Photo credit: Raiatea Arcuri.

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