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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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Faculty and staff are invited to next University Forum, May 17

Poster: University Forum, with flags

Faculty and staff at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are invited to the next University Forum scheduled for Tuesday, May 17, 2022, 11:00 a.m., via Zoom.

Zoom link:
Meeting ID: 975 2381 9005
Passcode: 397150

Questions may be submitted in advance to up to 30 minutes prior.

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Faculty and staff are invited to next University Forum, April 26, 2022

Poster: University Forum, with flags

Faculty and staff at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are invited to the next University Forum scheduled for Tuesday, April 26, noon to 1:00 p.m., via Zoom.

Zoom link:
Meeting ID: 954 8660 5969
Passcode: 145764

Questions may be submitted in advance to Questions received less than 30 minutes prior to the session may not be addressed and will have to be asked during the forum.

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, April 2022: Imagining UH Hilo a decade from now

Bonnie Irwin pictured.
Bonnie D. Irwin

In preparation for an upcoming meeting of the University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents, UH officers were given a homework assignment. We were asked to imagine what we would see and hear on our campuses 10 years from now. We were asked to create specific snapshots and not abstract concepts. The exercise allowed me to think about what success looks like for UH Hilo.

Immediately my mind went to a campus rich in diversity, grounded in equity and hands-on learning, and interdisciplinarity in our programs. I’d like to share a few of those with you.


Our diversity is one of UH Hilo’s greatest strengths, and we have been repetitively ranked as one of the nation’s most ethnically diverse campuses for more than two decades. This diversity contributes to a great environment both in and out of the classroom for our students to learn from one another. I am proud we can provide an educational home here in Hilo, itself a diverse city, for such a wide array of students.

I see our diversity continuing on for decades to come, grounding us in our local culture but also preparing our students for the global community at large.

One future snapshot of this global perspective and exposure would be a group of racially diverse students sitting down with faculty for orientation for their upcoming study abroad experience in Japan. Groups of similar students often return to the global community after graduation to teach abroad to share their skills, mana‘o, and aloha throughout the world.

This cultural exchange happens two ways. In addition to local students going out into the world, international students come here for their academic careers.

For example, our international students from Pacific Island nations are enriched and thriving in our local culture. Another snapshot would be a group of these students on a field trip in the local community, talking with small business owners about internships and volunteer work. Many of these students return to their homelands after graduation to share their new-found skills and knowledge on resource management, climate change, business, and more.

Global interface for our students will only grow over the next decade as the world becomes more and more connected with worldwide communities moving in tandem in such diverse fields as business and environmental conservation.

Hands-on learning

International education is but one aspect of what we call “hands-on learning,” another one of our great strengths that will continue to grow. We see this across disciplines from social sciences to agriculture to health care to theater to culture revitalization.

In another future snapshot, we would see students from our Hawaiian language college and our agricultural college planting and caring for native species in gardens on campus, where all would be speaking ‘olelo Hawai‘i in explaining the project to the local Hawai‘i State Historic Preservation Division employees.

At the Hawai‘i Innovation Center in downtown Hilo, students from the College of Business and Economics, along with student computer scientists, would be helping local entrepreneurs with technology upgrades and business processes. On Maunakea, student interns from our graduate programs in heritage management and in tropical conservation biology would be leading an orientation session for visitors, highlighting the cultural and natural significance of the mauna.

Geology and data science students would continue to study Kīlauea lava flow rates alongside U.S. Geological Survey researchers. In a nursing class, students would be interning in the community to learn about local health disparities. Students and alumni would be mentoring students at the Boys & Girls Club, discussing college and career opportunities at home.


UH Hilo is growing in leaps and bounds in all these “hands-on” areas and more because it is the opposite of a traditional institution of higher education where learning happens in constricted silos. More and more, collaboration between fields is key to giving our students the scope of knowledge needed for future jobs.

We see this in data science students working with the art department to develop cutting edge graphics that aid in disseminating complex information to the public. We see our School of Education working with the anthropology department to increase Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders aiming for STEM-field careers.

In research, we see faculty at the Hawaiian language college translating old, handwritten texts on Hawaiian plant-based medicine for use by biologists and pharmacists working together to investigate traditional antibiotic compounds in indigenous plants.

These are some of the many ways in which UH Hilo is uniquely and strategically positioned to move successfully into the future. In 10 years, we will be an even stronger and more cohesively diverse university community, working collaboratively to educate our students and enrich our local community as we move together into a more complex and connected world.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Faculty and staff are invited to next University Forum, March 23, 2022

Poster: University Forum, with flags

Faculty and staff at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are invited to the next University Forum scheduled for Wednesday, March 23, 2022, noon to 1:00 p.m., via Zoom.

Zoom link:
Meeting ID: 939 2083 0924
Passcode: 894568

Questions may be submitted in advance to Questions received less than 30 minutes prior to the session may not be addressed and will have to be asked during the forum.

Comments closed