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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Dec. 2021: Silver linings

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo was recently invited to participate in the Transformation Accelerator Cohort, an initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) which oversees the university’s accreditation. The program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is designed to help institutions eliminate race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of student success.

We are excited to be part of this initiative because it will allow UH Hilo to improve the way we serve students, and it will help us continue to lift up the region through providing educational opportunities for a diversity of students. The project aligns well with our strategic plan’s first goal, that of strengthening our commitment to our haumana, our students, and we hope it will enable us to move forward on our other strategic goals as well.

One of the things that AASCU has asked us to reflect upon are silver linings, those bright spots amid the dark days of the pandemic. What have we learned that can sustain us as we move forward? It is easy to focus on the negative when there is more than enough of that to go around—illness, isolation, exhaustion—yet as we emerge from the pandemic, we do so with a renewed sense of purpose, both at UH Hilo and across the UH System.

We are looking at developing programs to meet the post-pandemic needs of our island and our state; these programs have the potential to help UH Hilo increase enrollment while at the same time serving local needs for a trained workforce to see us into the future: programs in elementary education and data science are moving ahead, and other programs are looking at ways to update their curriculum.

Another silver lining has been the need to exercise our creativity in problem-solving. An example of this is the very quick change to online teaching that was required of our faculty and students in the spring of 2020. Though it was stressful and challenging on many levels, the successful switch opened up a world of possibilities about what we can do online, including expanding access to courses and programs.

Some professors say online teaching technology has helped to improve connections between students and expanded discussions. Online classes offer new ways to build a strong sense of community among peers, not just locally, but also with international students and faculty. Examples of this are business students taking online finance classes with classmates located in Asia and North America. Students who are learning how to teach English as a second language are working with students in Oman and the Philippines.

The pandemic has also forced us to focus on our priorities: our students and our community, of course, but also ourselves. This importance of self-care reflects our third goal in the strategic plan, which focuses on strengthening our commitment to kākou, literally meaning “we,” which includes the self. The global impact of covid reminds us that people are our most precious resource, and that our attention must focus on not just our students but also ourselves, our family, and our personal networks.

Staff and faculty who have stepped up and done amazing things without a lot of resources have learned the value of self-care, not only because of the threat of illness but also because of the need for rest and reflection. Being part of our campus ‘ohana reminds us that our self-care is not just important, but essential to continuing to serve our students and our community.

I look forward to working with the Transformation Accelerator Cohort as we strengthen our commitment to students and continue moving forward through the pandemic and beyond.

I wish you all the very best this holiday season. Stay safe and be well.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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