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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Nov. 2023: From scientific exploration to culture revitalization, UH Hilo plans for the future

Bonnie Irwin pictured
Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin

This is the last of my three columns on the six colleges at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and their impact on the community. This month I’d like to focus on the College of Natural and Health Sciences, and Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language.

The College of Natural and Health Sciences welcomed a new dean over the summer. Simon Kattenhorn comes to UH Hilo from the University of Alaska Anchorage where he was a professor and associate dean at the Department of Geological Sciences. In addition to extensive teaching in geology, geomechanics, and geohazards, he has an impressive record of research in both the geology of Earth and of other bodies in the solar system. He has mentored many undergraduate and graduate students in their research projects, and this experience will be invaluable to our students and faculty as the college expands its community-engaged research.

Also over the summer, the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES), a research and education program exploring Earth and space, is now officially a program of the College of Natural and Health Sciences. The program was founded in 2007 and focuses on research and the development of space exploration technologies with dual-use applications for Earth and space.

Originally, PISCES was part of UH Hilo, then in 2012 was transferred to the State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. But funding was spotty after that transfer, and with the move back to UH Hilo, the hope is PISCES will find more stability where university students will benefit immensely. This is an incredible opportunity for our science majors, giving students more exposure to hands-on experience in scientific research, with the potential to launch exciting career paths.

There also is new leadership at Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, with Ka‘iu Kimura named interim director in August (the same month, former director of the college, Keiki Kawai‘ae‘a, was appointed interim vice chancellor for academic affairs).

Interim Director Kimura is long-standing executive director at UH Hilo’s ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, a position she will retain while serving at the college. A UH Hilo alumna, she received her bachelor of arts and master of arts in Hawaiian language and literature and is currently a candidate in the university’s Indigenous language revitalization doctoral program. She has been a lecturer and served on the leadership team of the college for years, and has developed Hawaiian language curriculum offered to Hawai‘i’s business and tourism industries. She is well acquainted with the needs of the college, its students, staff, and faculty, as well as the needs of the community-at-large for robust culture and language revitalization programs.

An exciting development, in conjunction with Haleʻōlelo (the building that houses Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani) is the proposed ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi Campus project, envisioned to be a complete educational system based at UH Hilo to cultivate a legacy of Indigenous language and learning. This is a critically important project that will position UH Hilo at the forefront not only of ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) revitalization, but also global Indigenous language revitalization and normalization.

The project is collaborative between members of the Hawai‘i ʻImiloa Institute: Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani, ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u (our immersion laboratory school), and community-based immersion organization ‘Aha Pūnana Leo. It includes three new buildings, that recently won two architecture awards, for educational and ceremonial protocol spaces.

As Ka‘iu eloquently says, the proposed campus, located adjacent to the college, “is guided by a constellation of dedicated minds, including the visionaries at the Hawai‘i ʻImiloa Institute, we weave our heritage into the fabric of education. With each brick and beam, we echo the voices of generations past and empower the voices of generations yet to come. This recognition affirms our journey toward a future where our native languages thrive, our cultures soar and our people flourish.”

These two colleges—the College of Natural and Health Sciences, and Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language—are taking bold steps to help answer the needs of students, educators, researchers, our local communities, and the world at large, as we all plan for the future.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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