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End-of-Year Message to UH Hilo ‘Ohana from Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai

Aloha UH Hilo ‘Ohana,

Marcia Sakai
Marcia Sakai

As we start finals week and look forward to commencement on Saturday, I’d like to share with you a few highlights of the past semester.


Graduate and undergraduate women students planned and organized the inaugural Women in STEM Conference held in February. The all-day event brought together women leaders, scientists, students, and members of the campus community to discuss the current state of affairs for women in the STEM fields. Topics covered social history of women in STEM, the importance of mentorship, the issues of sexual harassment, mental health, the wage gap, work-family-life balance, retaining women STEM students, and creating a supportive climate for underrepresented minorities in STEM.

The concept of a campus food pantry for students in need was developed by business student Jordan Kamimura. Hale Pa‘i ‘Ai, a one-year pilot project that launched a soft opening in April, is officially opening this fall to provide services to students in need of reliable access to food. The Administrative Affairs project is to help students who may experience limited access to food at different times of the year due to lack of money and other resources. Jordan’s business concept includes pop-up concessions on campus to provide funding support.

Marcia Sakai, Jordan Kamimura, and Kalei Rapoza standing in front of the Teapresso concession.
Left to right, Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai, business student Jordan Kamimura, and Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Kalei Rapoza at the rollout event of the Teapresso Bar concession March 13, UH Hilo. The concession will support the new food pantry program on campus; Kamimura created the business plan for the pop-up and food pantry. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri, click to enlarge.

Our Marine Option Program students once again made a big splash at the annual statewide MOP Symposium. Bryant Grady’s project on reef ecology won Best Research Presentation, which has been won by UH Hilo Marine Option Program students for 26 of the past 31 years. Alexa Runyan won the Pacon Award for the best use of technology.

Three UH Hilo students presented their research projects at the annual meeting of the worldwide Society for Applied Anthropology held in Oregon where 2,000 academics and consultants attended the event. UH Hilo undergraduate Alexis Cabrera, with the mentorship of anthropology professor Lynn Morrison, won 3rd prize out of 90 student submissions (mostly master’s and doctoral projects) for her poster presentation.

Senior Rebekah Loving, from Hāmākua and double majoring in computer science and mathematics, is researching RNA sequencing and her work has gained the attention of a “who’s who” of top research universities across the country. Rebekah has received acceptance letters with offers of full funding to doctoral programs in biostatistics, computational biology, and computer science from Harvard, Columbia University, University of California Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology.


The extraordinary work of our faculty was noticed throughout the world.

The Jan. 23 airing of PBS’s NOVA, about the 2018 Kīlauea eruption, prominently featured UH Hilo scientists Cheryl Gansecki and Ryan Perroy and their work on chemistry analysis and aerial monitoring of the flow respectively. Cheryl, a geologist, provided real-time chemistry analysis of lava samples that helped determine how the lava would behave and how fast it would move, crucial information for Civil Defense and other responders. A group of undergraduate and graduate students led by Ryan, a geographer, piloted drones day and night capturing thermo and regular imagery of the lava flows, gathering critical information for the government agencies overseeing the eruption response.

UH Hilo biologist Rebecca Ostertag and geologist Jené Michaud were part of a team awarded an international medal for their paper questioning a fundamental assumption in the field of restoration ecology—the researchers suggest that nonnative, noninvasive plant species can be an important part of Hawaiian forest restoration. The Bradshaw Medal is given by the Society for Ecological Restoration in recognition of a scientific paper published in the Society’s major journal, Restoration Ecology.

Making international news was the story about Maunakea astronomers collaborating with our very own Larry Kimura, renowned Hawaiian language professor and cultural practitioner, for the Hawaiian naming of the black hole recently discovered. Pōwehi, meaning embellished dark source of unending creation, is a name sourced from the Kumulipo, the primordial chant describing the creation of the Hawaiian universe. The name awaits official confirmation, but it has already made the world take notice of the deeply meaningful Native Hawaiian connection to the discovery.


Early in the semester, we hosted a two-day Islands of Opportunity Alliance conference. UH Hilo administers the alliance, a collaborative group of 10 partner institutions in American Sāmoa, Guam, Hawai‘i, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The partners all share the common goal of increasing underrepresented professionals in STEM fields and together we are working toward more diversity in the quest for and understanding of scientific knowledge.

Roundtable group seated in discussion.
The Islands of Opportunity conference was attended by approximately 30 participants from across the Pacific region, including campus coordinators and administrators from each of the 11 alliance institutions, as well as the governing board, two external advisory boards, and an external NSF evaluator from Washington D.C. Jan. 11, 2019, UH Hilo campus. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri, click to enlarge.

A 40-session listening tour is underway in preparation for UH Hilo’s new strategic plan. The inclusive planning process is creating a strong foundation for a living strategic plan for our campus. Among the members of the UH Hilo ‘ohana, listeners of the tour outcomes will include our new UH Hilo chancellor and a Strategic Planning Committee that will be formed once the permanent chancellor is in place.

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

This leads me to the long-awaited news we received of the unanimous approval from the UH Board of Regents in naming our new chancellor Bonnie Irwin. Chancellor-Designate Irwin is looking forward to working with students, faculty, staff, alumni, island leaders and community members to build on the decades of great work to move UH Hilo and the community forward. We will be welcoming her to our university ‘ohana on July 1.


Thank you to everyone for all your hard work and dedication toward making UH Hilo a remarkable place of knowledge and learning. May you all have a successful end of the academic year. I send my congratulations to our spring graduates—you do us proud and I look forward to seeing you make a difference in the world. I wish you all a safe and wonderful summer.


Marcia Sakai

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UH Hilo Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai meets with local press

Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai hosted a Coffee Hour with the local press today on the campus of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. Interim Chancellor Sakai shared the following information in her PowerPoint.

The Flow

Large group of students and staff in orange safety vests, some hollding drones and other equipment.
UH HILO DRONE TEAM. UH Hilo had a vital role in response to the recent historic lava eruption on Hawaiʻi Island. In the photo above, students and staff, four holding drones used in aerial surveys, in the field at recent lava flow in Puna. The team piloted drones day and night to capture thermo data and imagery of lava flows, information critical to government agencies overseeing eruption response. They also analyzed threat to Puna Geothermal. Other teams of scientists analyzed chemistry of lava samples at labs on campus. Courtesy photo, click to enlarge.

UH Hilo Most Diverse Four-Year University in the Nation

Large group of students looking up to camera.
Freshman class during Orientation in August 2018. Courtesy photo, click to enlarge.

UH Hilo was recently ranked the Most Diverse 4-Year University in the Nation by the Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac 2018.

The Chronicle’s ranking of the top 10 most diverse public four-year universities and their corresponding diversity indexes:

  1. UH Hilo, 88.9
  2. Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology at Okmulgee, 87.1
  3. UH Maui College, 86.5
  4. UH West Oʻahu, 84.5
  5. Highline College, 81.9
  6. UH Mānoa, 81.6
  7. California State University, East Bay, 79.3
  8. Rutgers University-Newark, 78.9
  9. New Jersey Institute of Technology, 78.5
  10. Seattle Central College, 78.0
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Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai: Please support Hawai‘i Island United Way

Message to Faculty, Staff, and Administrators: This is the time of year when we as a university can come together to strengthen our community by pledging during the annual United Way General Campaign. Deadline to submit pledge is Friday, Oct. 19.


Logo with graphic of hand and words "United Way, Hawaii Island United Way."For the past 50 years, Hawai‘i Island United Way has served our island by partnering with countless non-profit agencies to support the needs of our community including our families, friends and students in areas of education, financial security, and health.

This is the time of year we as a university can come together to strengthen our community by pledging during the annual United Way General Campaign happening now. By supporting local agencies that tackle issues such a violence, mental illness, hunger and homelessness, we are helping to foster higher educational aspirations for countless people in our community and setting them on a path for healthy, prosperous and fulfilling lives.

Every dollar counts, so please consider donating once or doing a pledge with automatic payroll deduction.

Pledge application forms will be distributed to all campus units during the week of October 1st. Additional forms can be obtained by contacting the UH Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy.

Deadline is Friday, Oct. 19 to submit pledge to Jennifer Aguiar, assistant clinical education coordinator at the pharmacy college and this year’s Hawai‘i Island United Way chair, or to Marcia Heller, private secretary to the chancellor.

Let’s continue our support to build a healthier and resilient community.

Marcia Sakai
Interim Chancellor

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Genome editing pioneer Jennifer Doudna visits UH Hilo; Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai hosts reception, lecture, and private dinner

The lecture was the first of the Rose and Raymond Tseng Distinguished Lecture Series at UH Hilo. The series is supported by an endowed fund started by UH Hilo Chancellor Emerita Rose Tseng.

Marcia Sakai, Jennifer Doudna and Rose Tseng at dinner table with lava wall background.
(Left to right) Following Prof. Doudna’s lecture, UH Hilo Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai hosted Prof. Doudna and UH Hilo Chancellor Emerita Rose Tseng for a private dinner at Hilo landmark Ken’s House of Pancakes. Photo by Bob Douglas/UH Hilo Stories, click to enlarge.

Jennifer Doudna, professor of molecular and cell biology and chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution, gave a lecture titled “CRISPR Systems: Nature’s Toolkit for Genome Editing” on Monday at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

Jennifer Doudna on stage at podium.
Jennnifer Doudna gives lecture at the UH Hilo Performing Arts Center on Sept. 17, 2018. See more photos of lecture.

Doudna gained international renown when she and her colleagues at UC Berkeley were the first to develop the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology that enables scientists to edit the DNA of any organism. Based on a naturally occurring process used by bacteria to fight viruses, the CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) system provides scientists with a tool to make precise changes to the DNA of the genes, thereby modifying the function of cells in specific ways.

This visit was a special homecoming for Prof. Doudna. She was born in Washington, DC, and moved to Hilo with her parents when she was seven years old. She is a 1981 graduate of Hilo High School. Her father, Martin Doudna, was an English professor at UH Hilo, and her mother, Dorothy Doudna, taught history at Hawai‘i Community College.

Rose and Raymond Tseng Distinguished Lecture Series

The lecture was the first of the Rose and Raymond Tseng Distinguished Lecture Series at UH Hilo. The series is supported by an endowed fund started by UH Hilo Chancellor Emerita Rose Tseng.

Before the talk, Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai hosted a reception for Prof. Doudna and Chancellor Emerita Tseng. Photos by Bob Douglas, click to enlarge.

Jennifer Doudna and Rose Tseng.
(L-R) Prof. Doudna and Chancellor Emerita Rose Tseng.

Following the talk, Interim Chancellor Sakai hosted Prof. Doudna and Chancellor Emeritus Tseng at a private dinner at Hilo landmark Ken’s House of Pancakes.


About the photographer: Bob Douglas is a local artist, photographer, and sometimes part-time student who volunteers his photography skills to the Office of the Chancellor and UH Hilo Stories.

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