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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, July 2024: Reflections on my five years at UH Hilo

Bonnie Irwin pictured
Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin

I started my tenure as chancellor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo five years ago this month. When I arrived in July 2019, I found a campus community hard at work preparing to develop a new strategic plan. I knew my first tasks were to listen and learn about the aspirations of our university ʻohana and local community, and to make sure those desired goals would help the island with its needs — economic, educational, and cultural — while also protecting the ʻāina through sustainable activities. We’ve made great progress on all fronts.

It’s been an interesting, challenging, productive five years. I have found our university ʻohana strong and resilient, each person steadfast in remembering that no matter what challenges come our way — pandemic restrictions, enrollment declines, budget restraints — our dedication to the primary mission of the university never waivers: knowing that our ultimate kuleana is to challenge our students to reach their highest level of academic achievement, and through that, to improve lives.

Yes, we have our work cut out for us. Reflecting nationwide trends for schools such as ours, we have had enrollment declines for the past 10 years. But although to fix that we may adjust things to grow our out-of-state enrollment somewhat, I am proud that we continue to place as a high priority never displacing a Hawaiʻi student with one from elsewhere. We are creating a culture of equity that makes diversity an asset at a university that is ranked one of the most diverse in the country. This is a significant part of UH Hilo’s identity, and we will continue to hold as a top priority increasing access for our island students wherever possible.

I also have held as a top priority seeing UH Hilo as a gateway for upward mobility of those students, improving their lives. This means preparing our students for meaningful employment (that answers island workforce needs) that not only brings them a high quality of life but also lifts up their families and communities. I believe this is our responsibility as a regional university.

As I emphasized in 2019 and throughout my five years here, an effective way to prepare students for important regional work is to increase their engagement in applied learning and independent research for benefit of the community and the environment. This hews to UH Hilo’s mission of creating academic opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.

UH Hilo has always excelled at this and I have prioritized creating even more ways to open up independent research opportunities for even more students. More and more opportunities are available for students to conduct place-based research in our natural environment, in our agriculture and business communities, in our local schools and health care facilities, and more.

I feel so strongly about this being a priority that earlier this year, I personally launched a new fund with the UH Foundation to help students access important opportunities outside the classroom. The fund, called the Chancellor’s Fund for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity, will support undergraduates with expenses like travel for conferences or materials needed for their research. My dream for UH Hilo is that every student will be able to do something meaningful outside of class, whether it is research, studying abroad, an internship, or community service.

With my eye on the future of the university, some of the biggest changes at UH Hilo during my tenure thus far have been in university leadership. All three vice chancellors have come on board in the last couple of years, two hired from within the UH Hilo ʻohana. Four of our colleges are now led by current or former members of the UH Hilo faculty. Two others are led by new deans from elsewhere who each brought with them the insight and skills needed in a dean. And we have a new interim director for University Relations.

I feel really good about this new leadership team. It is a diverse group, reflecting our student body, including among others, women and men, scientists and culturalists, newcomers and Native Hawaiians. They are working as a team, communicating with each other on common goals, bridging silos, using our new data “dashboard” to make decisions. Behind it all is the constant priority of increasing students’ access to education along with caring about their wellbeing and their futures.

I mua!

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor announces Pele Harman as inaugural director of Native Hawaiian Engagement

Pele Harman pictured.
Pelehonuamea Harman (Photo: Daniella Zalcman)

Chancellor Irwin sent this announcement via email to the UH Hilo community on May 31, 2024. It is published here on Chancellor’s Blog following Pele Harman’s appointment confirmation this week by the UH Board of Regents and UH President David Lassner.

Aloha kākou,

It is with great pleasure that I announce the appointment of Pelehonuamea Harman as UH Hilo’s inaugural Director of Native Hawaiian Engagement, pending notice on the June 6, 2024, Board of Regents Agenda and approval by President Lassner. Ms. Harman is scheduled to start in this role, which is of strategic importance to our university, on July 1, 2024, and we are confident in her ability to lead in this crucial area.

Ms. Harman brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the position, given her two-plus decades of experience in the Hawaiian Immersion Education context, teaching learners of all ages in UH Hilo’s own K-12 laboratory school of Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu through to our Kahuawaiola Teacher Education program of Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani (KHʻUoK). She is also a proud alumna of UH Hilo, having graduated from KHʻUoK with her BA in Hawaiian Studies, Teaching Certificate from Kahuawaiola, and Master’s in Hawaiian Language and Literature.

As a haumana ʻuniki of Kimo Alama Keaulana, Pelehuonuamea – alongside her kāne Kekoa Harman – is a Kumu Hula of Hālau I Ka Leo Ola O Nā Mamo, one of Hawaiʻi mokupuni’s hālau hula focused on raising new generations grounded in the practices of hula from a strong foundation of Hawaiian language fluency.

We are deeply honored and grateful to have Ms. Harman return to our UH Hilo ʻohana. Her acceptance of this role and her willingness to share her rich lineage of Hawaiian language and cultural knowledge as a moʻopuna kuakahi (great-granddaughter) of Mary Kawena Pukui, one of the University of Hawaiʻi’s most esteemed scholars of Hawaiian knowledge, is a testament to her commitment to our shared journey of reclaiming this ʻike in our endeavors moving forward as a university.

Pelehonuamea joins the growing Hawaiʻi Papa o Ke Ao team being established throughout our University of Hawaiʻi campuses that will be working in concert to develop, implement, and assess strategic actions to make the University of Hawaiʻi a leader in indigenous education.

Me ke aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin, Chancellor

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Chancellor’s Column, May 2024: In community outreach project, UH Hilo marketing students survey local businesses about current outlooks

Bonnie Irwin pictured
Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin

Students in a marketing class at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo completed a survey over spring semester with 105 local restaurant and accommodation businesses to learn more about current outlooks and the challenges facing our island’s entrepreneurs.

The project was a collaboration between UH Hilo’s College of Business and Economics and the Hawaiʻi Small Business Development Center. HISBDC is a state-federal partnership found in every state and hosted by a local university. UH Hilo is our state’s host university and the Hawaiʻi SBDC statewide network has five offices on four islands.

The survey is the first of many such student projects HISBDC hopes to generate with UH Hilo and other UH campuses throughout the state. It was headed by Joseph Burns, HISBDC’s state director, and UH Hilo marketing lecturer Arliss Dudley-Cash whose spring 2024 class, “Principles of Marketing,” conducted and analyzed the survey.

The project was two-fold: conducting the survey gave our students practical experience, and the survey itself produced some interesting data about local business.

The students gained myriad benefits during the survey process that included not just real-life experience in creating, implementing, and analyzing an informal outlook survey, but also the gaining of valuable insights into entrepreneurial businesses such as practical knowledge about industries, business models, and challenges faced by local entrepreneurs.

There were 41 responses from the 105 businesses surveyed, an excellent response rate of 39 percent. And the results showed some hints of optimism, interesting in light of the negative impacts most everyone experienced during the pandemic.

Supply chain constraints, which were a serious problem during the pandemic, have abated, although are still a concern. Some two-thirds of the respondents see inflation as a challenge. With interest rates still high, none of the respondents indicated they foresee taking out a business loan at present.

However, 37.5 percent of the respondents said they plan to hire employees this year, which indicates that more than one-third of responding small business owners expect there will be sufficient demand to warrant new hiring. HISBDC State Director Burns says that since the state unemployment rate is low, business owners may have to renew their strategies for attracting and retaining the best employees.

Despite these challenges, the survey revealed local entrepreneurs feel optimistic about the future and that businesses are on the road to recovery after the huge challenges everyone endured during the pandemic.

I believe these types of community outreach projects, such as the student-conducted survey, are a win-win for everyone involved.

As the students’ mentor Arliss Dudley-Cash notes about the project, our students gain real-life experience in communicating with professionals, honing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Their academic work is enriched, and the skills gained become part of the foundation of future careers.

Our local business community benefits from the survey results, understanding better what their peers are experiencing, what challenges they face, and that the undercurrent is one of optimism for the future. We have survived the pandemic and are moving into the future with confidence.

State Director Burns says the results of the UH Hilo marketing class’s survey allow the business center’s advisors to learn more about client needs to be sure they are prepared to address them. He says the survey has been very helpful to the center and that HISBDC intends to continue this type of collaboration with future UH Hilo classes.

I’m proud that UH Hilo is the host university for our state’s Small Business Development Center, and I look forward to our students — and students at other UH campuses — becoming more and more involved in this type of community outreach.

I mua!

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor plants rare palm at UH Hilo Botanical Gardens to celebrate National Public Gardens Day

Chancellor with shovel, lays dirt into the new planting.
Chancellor Bonnie Irwin plants a rare loulu palm at the UH Hilo Botanical Gardens, May 15, 2024. (Courtesy photo)

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin planted a rare Hawaiian loulu palm (Pritchardia schattaueri) at the UH Hilo Botanical Gardens to celebrate National Public Gardens Day. The gardens contain a large collection of cycads (over 120 species), hybrid bromeliads, and a large palm collection.

National Public Gardens Day is celebrated every second Friday of May and this year it was marked on May 10, a rainy day in Hilo, so the planting took place on Wednesday, May 15. The day was established in 2009 by the American Public Gardens Association to emphasize activities such as plant conservation, water conservation, green space preservation, and home gardening.

Founder of the UH Hilo Botanical Gardens, Professor Emeritus of Biology Don Hemmes, and his wife Helen were at the event, along with UH Hilo biologist Deb Beirne, members of the Hawaiʻi Island Palm Society, and volunteers who tend the garden. In addition to the tree planting, the group toured the cycad, bromeliad, and palm collections.

The UH Hilo Botanical Gardens are open to the public and group tours can be arranged by contacting Prof. Hemmes.

Learn more about the different gardens on the campus of UH Hilo.

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UH Hilo 2024 Spring Commencement

Chancellor congratulates graduate as she shakes her hand and gives her diploma.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo celebrated 2024 Spring Commencement on Saturday, May 11, at Edith Kanakaʻole Stadium. There were 522 students who petitioned for degrees and/or certificates and for various post-graduate credentials.

Candidates represented the College of Arts and Sciences; Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikolani College of Hawaiian Language; College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management; College of Natural and Health Sciences; College of Business and Economics; and the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy.

Keynote speaker was UH Hilo Professor of Finance Terrance Jalbert. Student speaker was David Mayser, a student-athlete graduating with a bachelor of arts in communication.

Four graduates jump for joy.See full post with photos at UH Hilo Stories.

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