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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Sept. 2021: Safety first with COVID-19 as we move the university forward

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

The fall semester has started and the University of Hawai‘i System has updated its COVID-19 Guidelines for all 10 campuses across the state. At UH Hilo we now have about twice as many students living on campus as last year, so that drives much of what we are doing. And, for the time being, enrollment is up!

For everyone’s safety, we now have a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for students, faculty, staff and visitors who come to a UH campus. Unvaccinated students and employees are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test weekly. Everyone’s status is tracked through an app, which also screens for symptoms and possible exposure.

Some courses—clinicals, labs, performing arts, field work—may require vaccination without exception because safe physical distancing cannot be maintained. Unvaccinated students are being encouraged to defer registration for these classes until spring or a later semester.

Everyone is asked to continue practicing social distancing. While face masks are required indoors while on a UH campus, a mask is not required if the person is in a room by themselves. Face masks are no longer required outdoors while on campus but strongly recommended when physical distancing cannot be maintained, such as in a crowd.

The updated UH guidelines reflect the high vaccination rates of our campus communities based on recent surveys. Guideline revisions and updates are ongoing based on county, state, and federal guidance. Our focus, of course, is on health and safety, especially given the highly contagious Delta variant now circulating throughout our state resulting in higher case counts among the unvaccinated. Get vaccinated!

Community Engagement

As we focus on safety first with our COVID protocols, we also continue to move our university forward in its mission to improve the quality of life of the people of Hawaiʻi. This means providing both access and equity to all who want to advance their education with us.

On this front, I want to share with you that UH Hilo’s Center for Community Engagement and the Campus Center have been awarded $149,000 from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund to implement student and faculty programming grounded in community, relationships, and equity. With support from local collective Vibrant Hawai‘i, the County of Hawai‘i, and KTA Superstores, a four-year program will launch for students that combines leadership development and service that is geared to, but not exclusively for, first-generation and low-income students.

The Center for Community Engagement also will offer professional development for faculty focusing on teaching and mentorship activities that are grounded in community, relationships, and equity. The faculty members will form cohorts to work together throughout the year in support of each other in doing the work. Each cohort member will then commit to inviting and mentoring another educator in the following year to pay forward lessons learned.

Strategic Plan

Meanwhile, we move forward on completing our new strategic plan. As I wrote in last month’s column, the proposed strategic and action plans have been under review. Planning participants, including faculty, staff, students, alumni and community partners have been driving development of the new plan, and I want to thank our university community and our local partners for sending in your feedback.


By working together on the COVID-19 front while also moving our university forward in its mission to provide a quality education to all our students, we can ensure both safety and success to all. Mahalo for all you do to help us reach our goals.


Bonnie D. Irwin

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