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Remarks by the Chancellor at the 2022 Fall Welcome

Chancellor Irwin at the podium delivers remarks. Background slide: Fall Welcome.
Chancellor Bonnie Irwin delivers remarks at the 2022 Fall Welcome event, Aug. 31, 2022, Performing Arts Center, UH Hilo. (Spencer Honda)

Aug. 31, 2022

Performing Arts Center

University of Hawai‘i at Hilo

Aloha mai kakou,

Fall 2022 is the dawning of a new day at UH Hilo. We welcome new employees and see renewed life with more people walking the campus. The summer has been a season of rebuilding and restoring relationships.

      • Faculty have once again begun to travel to conduct their research and engage students in research and service off campus.
      • We have launched employee engagement events (E Launa Pū) that help us grow and prosper as a community as we learn about such things as food safety, auto maintenance, and self-care.
      • UH Hilo once again hosted in-person Upward Bound programs wherein young people took steps to follow their educational potential. We again had PIPES and Akamai interns on our campus and in our community, and we welcomed a new partnership with Nalukai Academy that offers intensive leadership and entrepreneurship programs for high school students.
Banner on lamp post
New UHHSA-funded banners on the campus feature diverse students and their stories.

We come back together this fall to new UHHSA-funded banners on the campus that feature our diverse students and their stories. We danced and laughed our way through the welcome-back fashion show and ice cream social. We relaunched the Hoʻokamaʻāina program that introduced new employees to our local community and Native Hawaiian culture. We had our first wholly in-person student convocation, and it was thrilling to see all the new students, proudly wearing their ti-leaf leis, and their families, all sitting in this very space two weeks ago, with that mixture of excitement and apprehension that marks an important life transition. All these events remind us that we are indeed a vibrant community.

During the last few months, work also progressed on the strategic plan action items. In addition to the E Launa Pū program, we have seen progress in many areas:

      • In research support, the Research Council providing workshops for faculty.
      • In global engagement, the Center for Global Education and Exchange worked with faculty to create more opportunities for Global Vulcan Alumni (students who have studied abroad) to share their experiences with current UH Hilo and local high school students to inspire and support those students planning to go abroad. Interested faculty and staff are also working with the center on websites to promote study abroad, but also to raise awareness on campus of COIL (collaborative online international learning) technology and connecting with international experts.
      • In the area of community engagement, I now have a UH Hilo Chancellor’s Community Advisory Board and am looking to expand it. Our Center for Community Engagement has surveyed our local community about ways in which we might better demonstrate the importance of our community partnerships. Our first class of student Bonner Leaders traveled to the continent to convene with their colleagues from across the country to discuss leadership and improving their communities.
      • Over the past year, we have also expanded our marketing outreach to engage more across the state and have broadened our social media presence.
      • Plans are also in the works for an alumni engagement event.
      • In diversity and equity, we now have a DEI Book Club, and I highly recommend the current selection, Razorblade Tears, which is a book that will stick with me for a long time. A team of faculty and staff attended the AASCU Academic Affairs meeting to work with fourteen other campus teams in the Student Success Equity Intensive, a data-rich approach to equity and student success.
      • In growing our data culture, 12 faculty and staff completed the Student Success Analytics certificate program hosted by the Cal State system, and we are eagerly awaiting the launch of our student success dashboard, which will allow individual undergraduate programs to learn more about their students’ journeys.


Group of student pose in front of Aloha sign.
As of August 25, there are 630 students in the residence halls, up from 562 last fall.

While we do not issue an official count until census a few weeks into the semester, it appears that our total enrollment will be down this year. This is true for campuses across the state and the country, as the population of traditional college-aged citizens has flattened or decreased in most places, and COVID has had some students re-thinking what they want to do with their lives.

We have a great opportunity on this island, however, as our population is projected to increase over the next few years. Thus, it becomes imperative on all of us to communicate the value of the UH Hilo degree and our campus experience.

While our total number may be down, our campus engagement is up. As of September 1, 59.2% of our classes has some kind of in-person component, and of our home-based degree-seeking students, 79.1% have something on campus, indicating that the percentage of solely online students has shrunk as we have begun to offer more hybrid and in-person offerings. And you might notice more activity generally on campus. As of August 25, we had 630 students in the residence halls, up from 562 last fall. While we are still short of our high point, the numbers are definitely trending in the right direction, and students are genuinely excited to be on campus!

Legislative Update

As always, the last legislative session had us sitting on the edge of our seats, as items went in and out of bills, but the news overall is good. The budget that was cut in 2020 has been restored, and the governor added requests for new faculty positions for us that the legislature supported in nursing and aeronautical sciences. Nursing has struggled to meet the student demand of late, and, as we all know, health care is a major need on our island, so these new lines are good news indeed. The aeronautical sciences positions are also good news as we now have three classes of students, and the new positions will allow us to hire without reallocating faculty lines internally. The really wonderful news for our campus this year, however, is the recognition by the legislature of the vision of Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani and the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center. The legislature approved numerous positions for our college of Hawaiian Language to expand its curriculum development work in its quest to renormalize and revitalize the Hawaiian language. Ka Haka ‘Ula will also be on call for another legislative act that we did not sponsor but that we supported, which requires all state offices to include the Hawaiian names of their departments on letterhead, websites, etc. This is another step in the renormalizing of ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi, and UH Hilo is taking the lead in helping the state accomplish this goal.

View of Maunakea over red rooftops on campus.
Act 255 establishes a Maunakea Stewardship Authority, and by 2028, the University of Hawaii will no longer be in the primary position of stewardship of the mauna. (Raiatea Arcuri/UH Hilo Stories)

For those of you who follow Maunakea issues, House Bill 2024 passed through the legislature after many revisions, and is now Act 255. It establishes a Maunakea Stewardship Authority, and by 2028, the University of Hawaii will no longer be in the primary position of stewardship of the mauna. There are many details yet to be worked out, and the Authority has not yet been appointed, though as UH Hilo chancellor, I have a non-voting seat on the body. I will be keeping the campus updated on the progress of this new governance structure over the coming months and years. My hope is that there will be still space for our various academic programs to engage with Maunakea so that we may both care for the mauna and learn from it.

Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) Commendations

I want to once again thank everyone who came out to meet the WSCUC visiting team, who participated in the writing of the self-study, and who participated in our re-accreditation process in one way or another. The team and the WSCUC commission recognized the strengths of UH Hilo and saw how well integrated we are in our community. They commended us for our strong sense of place, our commitment to the revitalization of ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, and how our academic programs engage with our community. On a rainy afternoon, the team visited the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy, the farm in Pana‘ewa, and the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center, more commonly referred to as PACRC, in Keaukaha. They also were briefed on the outreach programs at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center. While those units were called out specifically in the commendation, they represent the entire campus and how we provide meaningful experiences for our students in our community and on the local ‘āina. The commission also commended UH Hilo’s dedication to high impact practices, especially service learning and our integrative requirements. All of these things are hallmarks of our campus, and despite the slowing down of our field work during the pandemic, the team recognized how we try to embed our programs in community, for the benefit of both our students and our island.

WSCUC Recommendations

Despite the strengths that the team called out, they also noted a number of items they would like us to work on, and they went so far to issue a Notice of Concern. The main concern is over things that had been mentioned in previous visits that it appeared we had not yet addressed to their satisfaction. It is important for me to note here that the WSCUC process is designed to help us help ourselves by having experienced teams visit the campus and suggest ways in which we can improve. So we do these things to improve UH Hilo and the education we offer students, not just because “WASC says so.” There are three items that they would like to see us make progress on over the next two years, even though our accreditation is for six years.

IR capacity. WSCUC previously noted that we needed more of a data culture on the campus, and that also means more capacity in Institutional Research. Unfortunately, the person we had hired as director resigned shortly before the visit team arrived, so they see that we once again are understaffed. We will be relaunching this search soon, and in the meantime, we are taking advantage of other data resources from the Cal State System and one of our professional associations, AASCU, that you will be hearing more about in the coming months. Data does not tell the whole story, but data can point the way for us to improve everything from admissions to graduation rates, to budgeting. We will use data as a flashlight and not a hammer, and the data will be supplemented by qualitative study, especially in the area of student success.

Assessment and Program Review

Another recommendation is for us to continue our “progress in program review and improvement program learning outcomes assessment across all degree programs, to make informed decisions for program improvement.” I congratulate those programs that have gone through program review, and taken what they have learned to heart in improving their programs. We need to see this culture across our campus, and we must engage with students and community to ensure that our academic programs are meeting their needs. In October, there will be a health care summit wherein our health programs can engage with providers and see where the gaps are in this high need area. I would like to follow that event with one to address education and teaching training, another high need area on our island.

These kinds of events complement the program review and assessment work of our faculty. Assessment is not just something Our accreditation liaison officer and the assessment committee undertake; every program must be committed to continuous improvement for our students and our institution to thrive.

Strategic Planning

The third area in which the Commission expects to see some progress is “reconciling” the campus strategic planning efforts. The Faculty Congress found some things lacking in the university strategic plan and thus crafted another strategic vision for the campus. Our Hanakahi Council has been working on a campus plan to align with the systemwide Hawai‘i Papa O Ke Ao plan for UH to be “model indigenous serving institution.” Beginning next month, teams will work to harmonize these various plans into a more comprehensive vision of our institution. I will also be asking these teams to keep in mind the four imperatives that are driving the systemwide strategic planning: student Success, meeting state workforce needs, modeling what it means to be an indigenous serving and inspired institution, and diversifying Hawai‘i’s economy through Innovation and Research.

We do not always paddle in the same direction here at UH Hilo, and these plans will help us come together to be a stronger institution, the university our state needs and our island deserves.

Other Recommendations

The five remaining recommendations are things we are already working on. Clear and transparent operations around budget; strategic visioning around enrollment and resources; better communications across the board. All of these things will become our standard way of working.

We can and will build on our strengths to make our university better. We are not the same university we were at the turn of the millennium. The state and higher education generally have changed considerably in the last twenty years, and we need to keep pace with those changes. We are not even the same institution we were in 2019. When I first arrived at UH Hilo, for example, we did not teach many courses at all in an online format, and then suddenly, we taught everything online. Now we are trying to find the appropriate balance in course modalities. What do our students need? What does our community expect? How do we collaborate across the system? We have changed and thus we must look forward to a different future, but one in which we are still anchored by our values and our strengths of engaged teaching and learning and service to students and community, in this amazing place we are fortunate to call home.

Let’s go out and do it.

I mua, UH Hilo!

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Published in Remarks, Messages, & Writings