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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, June 2022: UH Hilo is abuzz this summer!

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

Just a couple of weeks ago, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo returned to the Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium for our first in-person spring commencement in three years. Family and friends cheered on the grads and we were all excited by all the potential symbolized in those new teachers, counselors, nurses, pharmacists, and other professionals who leave our university to embark on their careers or graduate school.

The staff who planned and executed commencement took a few days to take a breath and reboot for the summer. Those who work at universities are often asked what they are going to do with their “summer off.” The reality, of course, is that even though there are not as many classes in the summer, the university is abuzz with activity and our faculty, staff, and students are quite busy!

With the easing of the pandemic, faculty are embarking on long-postponed research travel across the globe, which will allow them to share their expertise with others and to bring new ideas back to campus and into the classrooms and labs. Some are traveling to present their research at professional meetings; others are taking students on field experiences, the sort of thing that the flexibility of summer allows.

Students are also fanning out into the community on internship experiences.

For example, the Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Science (PIPES), a summer internship program dedicated to growing the next generation of leaders in natural resource management, is running from May 31 through August 5. PIPES connects under-represented undergraduate students, especially Native Hawaiians and kamaʻāina, to internships with agencies and organizations working on environmental issues in Hawaiʻi and throughout the Pacific region. The vision is to help create a diverse and representative workforce that embodies and integrates mālama ʻāina innovations into ways of knowing, relationships, actions, and professions.

Back on campus, we are hosting a number of groups this summer.

Upward Bound programs are helping students with academic instruction and tutoring, financial aid and scholarship applications, college and career exploration, and more.

The Akamai Internship Program gives Hawai‘i students a summer work experience at an observatory, company, scientific, or technical facility in Hawai‘i for eight weeks. We are housing the Hawai‘i Island interns and our faculty are engaged in teaching and mentoring participants.

We also are hosting Hawai‘i high school students from Nalukai Academy, a local leadership program guiding future entrepreneurs in technological, cultural, and social ventures. This is a wonderful way to introduce young people to our campus.

Our College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management is a co-sponsor of the first annual Tropical AgTech Conference, to be held this month at the UH Hilo Performing Arts Center, June 22-23. A student-friendly event, innovators and technologists from our island, state, and around the world are coming here to talk about innovative technology that can be applied in the tropics. Our very own Bruce Mathews, dean of the college, will be speaking on the first day of the conference about Hawai’i Island soils and tropical agricultural and ecosystem sustainability.

In addition, this ag conference dovetails well with our joint application for U.S. Economic Development Administration funding for our ag sector through the Build Back Better program, a COVID-19 relief spending bill that includes a jobs plan related to climate change.

This is just a sample of what is happening at UH Hilo this summer, in addition to our classes.

We also use the summer to plan for the arrival of new and returning students in the fall, prepare to recruit our 2023 students, and work on items in our strategic plan. We are mapping the many ways we engage with our island community so that we can see where the pukas are and where we can do better.

Another strategic planning team is looking for ways to increase our global engagement. Local and global engagement go hand-in-hand as we bring the world to Hilo and also send our students abroad to learn more about the world.

Now that the pandemic has eased somewhat, students who have long-postponed their international study and adventure are being allowed to travel to countries where it is safe. A local parent reports that the delay brought by the pandemic has actually worked in favor for her family in that both her daughters will now be able to study abroad together!

This has been a tough couple of years and I am proud of the way UH Hilo faculty and staff have persevered to deliver the very best education and opportunities to our students every step of the way. I look forward to seeing the many summer activities on our thriving campus.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin
Chancellor, UH Hilo

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