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Faculty and staff are invited to the next University Forum, Jan. 24

Poster: University Forum, with flags

Faculty and staff at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are invited to the first University Forum of the new year on Tuesday, Jan. 24, noon to 1:00 p.m., via Zoom.

Zoom link:
Meeting ID: 947 2660 6951
Passcode: 851326

Note that University Forums via Zoom are no longer recorded.

Questions may be submitted in advance to

Call the Office of University Relations with any questions.

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Jan. 2023: Our priorities at the 2023 State Legislature

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

The Hawai‘i State Legislature is opening its 2023 session this month and I am writing this column in between hearings. Foremost on my mind are our priorities at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, and I’d like to share my thoughts with you.

Restoring our general budget and athletics budget will allow us to come out of the austerity measures we had to put into place during the pandemic. This allows us to convert temporary positions to more permanent hires and make sure that the students have the support they need in an environment conducive to learning. And support for our athletics program continues to be an important piece of our community stewardship. It has been a delight to see more fans on the sidelines and in the bleachers again, cheering on our Vulcans.

Security and IT positions are backbone functions that support the entire campus. We used to contract out for security, but the state wants us to hire outright, so we are hiring security into civil service lines and asking for additional ones so that we may ensure the safety and security of our campus.

We are also asking for student support positions, including a career/internship coordinator. Internships are one of the most valuable out-of-class experiences we can provide our students, and having more centralized support will allow us to work with our local community to create more internship opportunities and make sure that these are high quality experiences that complement our students’ classroom learning. There are also numerous compliance requirements for internships that will be much easier to track with a centralized support person.

The other related position is a transfer coordinator, which will help us provide seamless transfer from the UH community colleges, especially Hawai‘i Community College, and mainland CCs.

Our funding request also includes faculty positions directly related to particular community needs: nursing, education, mental health counseling (our graduate program specializing in clinical mental health counseling is the only one in the UH System), agriculture, and administration of justice. By hiring more faculty, we can serve more students!

Regarding administration of justice, students who want to go into law enforcement cannot do so straight out of high school—they have to be 21 or older. So it makes sense to pursue a university degree, giving them the needed knowledge to not only enforce the law but also understand administration of justice in the context of the communities we serve. This is also the only free-standing program for this degree in the UH system. We can thus serve other Hawai‘i residents outside our island.

Teacher training is another huge need in the state and on Hawai‘i Island. These positions will allow us to support both our current School of Education programs but also our Hawaiian immersion education.

In addition, nursing positions are key to continuing our invaluable contributions to building a strong health care system on our island. This was made crystal clear during the pandemic as our graduates, both recent and long-standing alumni, rose to the occasion with the skills necessary to help see us through this most difficult time.

Curriculum on sustainable agribusiness helps us prepare local students for the kinds of agricultural needs found on our island. We seek to integrate more business skills in our ag programs that allow our graduates to understand the full range of issues confronting growers today.

After the deluge of challenges during the pandemic, UH Hilo is in a strong position to emerge with continued and unwavering dedication to our primary mission: to challenge students to reach their highest level of academic achievement. The goal is to improve the quality of life for families and communities by producing highly skilled graduates who can answer the workforce needs of our island, state, and region.

With the full support of the State Legislature, we can continue to get the job done.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Dec. 2022: International students thrive at UH Hilo

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

In last month’s column, I wrote about enrollment trends and the associated data collecting we are doing to understand those trends. I asked the question: Why do certain students choose UH Hilo and how do we know who will thrive here? This is the overarching question that our recent data efforts seek to answer.

An interesting segment of our student population to look at is our international students, who are about 7% of UH Hilo’s total student body and enrich our entire campus in multitude of ways.

International students demonstrate higher retention rates than students from other geographic areas. Per our recent accreditation report, since fall 2015 UH Hilo has retained 78% of international students, the highest of any cohort. Once our international students make the choice to come to UH Hilo, they stick around! Indeed, during the pandemic, many of our international students were with us the whole time. Because they could not get home, UH Hilo worked hard to make them feel welcome on campus throughout the pandemic.

We have a healthy student representation from Europe and the Americas but most of our international students at UH Hilo come from the Pacific-Asia region. To answer the question about why they choose UH Hilo and why they stay, the first thing that stands out is their choice of programs, notably environmental and conservation programs such as marine science and geography and environmental studies, where their classroom is often a coral reef or a lava field.

Other popular majors are business, accounting, and political science. Still others come to us for the opportunity to compete in intercollegiate athletics. Many of these students use what they have learned in our classes and our community to help back home.

For students from the Pacific Islands, the diverse campus and island communities make it a comfortable, natural fit for them here. The university’s cultural and ethnic diversity, that I wrote about in last month’s column as being one of our greatest strengths, is highly valued by our international students—they feel welcome and accepted.

They also perceive and experience Hilo as a safe place to live that is conducive to studying, which has become increasingly important to international students given the attention that gun violence in the U.S. gets around the world. International students also perceive and experience UH Hilo as a welcoming place for all people; this, too, has become increasingly important for international students looking to study in the U.S. in light of perceptions of anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S.

Once these students are with us, they have a wide range of support services available. The International Student Services program provides an array of services intentionally designed to meet their needs and interests. The program strives to offer a “one-stop shop” of services that are holistic and comprehensive and begin from the time a student is admitted through graduation and beyond.

International students are thriving in their academics and excelling right through to graduation. After graduation, many return to their homelands to share their new-found knowledge and skills with their communities.

Like many of our alumni, our international graduates are doing great things! Louisa Ponnnampalan, a 2003 alumna from Malaysia, for example, is the chair and co-founder of the MareCet Research Organization, Malaysia’s first nonprofit organization dedicated to the research and conservation of marine mammals and their environment. Alumna Uduch Sengebau Senior from Palau is a prominent judge, lawyer, and politician who currently serves as the vice president and minister of justice in her home community.

We are understandably proud of all our graduates, who are making contributions both locally here on island and also across the globe. One of the great benefits of our emerging from the pandemic is that we can once again welcome students not only from our local communities, but from across the globe. We can also once again provide opportunity for Hawai‘i Island students to study abroad. Our university truly has a global impact and we welcome the world to Hilo.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin
Chancellor, UH Hilo

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Chancellor’s response to Mauna Loa eruption, Nov. 28

November 28, 2022


As many of you are aware, Mauna Loa erupted last night just before midnight. At this time lava flows are not threatening any downslope communities and all indications are that the eruption will remain in the Northeast Rift Zone.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College are closely monitoring the ongoing Mauna Loa activity and formulating contingency plans to address situations that may arise.

We recognize that we are in a critical phase of the academic year with finals and commencement coming up. And we recognize the highest priority of health, safety and ‘ohana. At this time classes are continuing as scheduled.

We will update the campus if the situation changes.

In addition, please keep yourself informed by listening to the latest Civil Defense messages and following their instructions, and by visiting the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory page.


Bonnie Irwin


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Faculty and Staff are invited to the next University Forum, Nov. 29.

Poster: University Forum, with flags

Faculty and staff at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are invited to the next University Forum on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, noon to 1:00 p.m., University Classroom Building, room 127.

This month’s forum combines November and December’s forums.

Questions may be submitted in advance to

Call the Office of University Relations with any questions.

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