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Chancellor’s Column, March 2024: Re-visioning student success at UH Hilo

Bonnie Irwin pictured
Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin

We have re-visioned and reorganized how we approach student success at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. All three of the major areas on campus—academic affairs, student affairs, and administrative affairs—are engaged in making this re-visioning a tangible, forward looking, and meaningful process.

The Student Affairs Leadership Team is now kaʻi i ka wēkiu, elevating student success, and making sure it is central in everything we do. There are four teams: enrollment, student engagement, student wellbeing, and workplace culture.

The first of these, enrollment, is all about recruiting students and, even more importantly, making sure more of them cross the finish line and obtain their degree. This group will be working closely with our data folks to identify trends and working with an enrollment management firm on increasing our reach.

Student engagement concerns all the ways we interact with students, both in and out of the classroom. What activities are of most interest to students? How can we encourage more students to pursue research or study abroad? How do our students and programs interact with the larger community of Hawaiʻi Island?

The student wellbeing group is working on all the things that make sure student lives are healthy and flourishing so that they can be successful. This ranges from basic needs to fitness to physical and mental health. We need to make sure that all students who need to connect to support services know how to do so and are getting the support they need.

Finally, we all know that staff and faculty wellbeing translates to student wellbeing, so the workplace culture group will focus on various ways of supporting our employees: do they have the training they need to be successful? Are there appropriate opportunities for advancement?

Large two story building with lots of windows. Large shower tree out front, grassy area.
Student Services building, UH Hilo.

Parallel to this work, our Division of Student Affairs has a new strategic plan focusing on supporting students in reaching their full potential in both academic success and their overall wellbeing.

And the new plan does not focus solely on students, it also encompasses the needs of staff, too. We want to create an environment where everyone can thrive.

A key concept we are envisioning is about a deep commitment to nurturing student success and fostering a welcoming, inclusive, and culturally sensitive campus environment. Priorities are not just academic achievement but also holistic wellbeing, equity, and cultural competence, critical aspects of students’ overall growth and development.

The new strategic plan is based on several guiding principles rooted in compassion and inclusiveness: 1) coordinated efforts between units and programs dedicated to student success, 2) inclusivity where students and staff find equity, justice, and a strong sense of belonging to the university community, 3) holistic well-being, where health and wellbeing are actively cultivated in both students and staff, and 4) where collaboration is the driving force behind it all.

Chris Holland pictured.
Chris Holland

Driven by the core value of inclusivity, the plan grew from town hall meetings led by Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Chris Holland. Nearly 80 percent of division staff actively participated in the process.

Crucial steps include the formation of teams that can coordinate efforts and ensure accountability; developing tasks and adequate financial resources; ongoing data collection and analysis to identify areas that need improvement; staff training; and consistent reporting on progress with milestones celebrated to boost morale.

Feedback is a crucial component, ensuring the plan remains relevant.

The UH Hilo ʻohana has a strong commitment to empowering students in all areas of their university experience. With careful planning, collaboration between divisions and units, and dedication to continuous improvement, we are well on our way to creating a nurturing and thriving campus community where every student can reach their full potential.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin
Chancellor
UH Hilo

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