The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo welcomed 11 new faculty and staff at a virtual Fall Welcome event on August 19, 2020, via the online conference platform Zoom. Chancellor Bonnie Irwin co-hosted the event with the university’s vice chancellors Kristen Roney, Kalei Rapoza, and Farrah-Marie Gomes.
Here are Chancellor Irwin’s remarks at the event:
Aloha Mai Kākou,
At times like this when so many things are unknown and the news keeps changing, it is easy to become frustrated, anxious, and even afraid. These are uncertain times, and the pandemic is something none of us has lived through before.
But the pandemic also gives us opportunity to concentrate on what is essential, both at home and at work.
Here on campus, we return to first principles and core values. What is truly most important in the education and experience we provide to students, and how can we best serve these young people who depend upon us to help them open the door to opportunity and to a better life for their family? Because, in essence, what UH Hilo is, more than specific degrees and support programs, is opportunity and hope for the people of our local community and beyond.
The reality of the pandemic and our budget are indeed bleak, but within that gloomy landscape, we can remain that beacon of hope for families and our community. Time and time again over the course of the last several months, I have seen individuals from front line staff to vice chancellors on this campus lean in, step up, and go beyond what they thought they had the capacity to do.
We have developed safety protocols, cleaning regimens, hybrid/hyflex courses, online trainings, and maintained a high standard of service. LSAMP and PIPES students presented their research online. Ka Haka ‘Ula o Ke‘eikolani PhD candidates defended their dissertations. ‘Imiloa launched a small camp for keiki, complete with all the physical distancing required. Custodial staff mobilized to clean a space after a possible exposure (thankfully the employee tested negative). IT staff are putting in extra hours to prepare the upgrades in classrooms. Budget staff are laboring over the numbers, figuring out how we stay in business. Facilities staff are erecting plexiglass barriers, signage, and sanitizing stations.
We have always been a high touch campus, but what that means in essence is not the physical manifestation of high touch, but the standard of care that we bring to our work, no matter where we sit in the org chart. This is even more important as we move more of our classes totally online. The commitment, resilience, and resourcefulness of this campus is strong, and those qualities can and will see us through the current challenge and those we will face in the future.
The pandemic challenges us but we are buoyed up by the importance of what we do and the students we serve. To be a truly student-centered campus, we must find ways to serve both the students who are with us here physically and those who are studying from a distance. We need to maintain standards while also acting with empathy to those students and to one another. We need to be creative in our methods of providing that meaningful, hands-on experience for students when they may not be able to lay their hands physically on that experience. Each of you has a pivotal role to play in this transformation. We all have our role in helping our students navigate the complex world of higher education and choose the academic and career path best suited to their passions.
We need to create equitable, welcoming spaces for that learning to take place. The national events of this summer should re-energize our commitment to diversity and equity. We have a great asset in our diversity and culture, and we cannot lose sight of this very important element of our strength as an institution. This year, we will find ways to further nurture our diversity and support equity through critical conversations, education, and walking our talk.
In addition to our people, we must also continue to be good stewards of this place, and place it at the center of how we teach and serve. Students come to our campus because UH Hilo is a university that does not just happen to be located in the beautiful, rich natural and cultural environment of Hawai‘i, but also cares and nurtures that environment. Our ‘aina and ‘ohana based programs are another of our strengths, and they, too, will see us through this pandemic and toward a new day for UH Hilo as we emerge on the other side.
Regional stewardship also ties in to how we model sustainable practices, from our composting program to our energy use reductions to our research and engagement in conservation and the environment. It includes our arts and sports programs that bring entertainment and enrichment to local families. It includes our providing leadership and knowledge where desired, volunteer efforts where needed. It includes engaging with our alumni, both to include them in our work and to see where we can continue to support their success.
Our future as a university is inextricably linked to that of Hawai‘i Island, and our kuleana extends throughout our campus and our community. This rich environment sustains us, and the fact that we are a Hawaiian place of learning, guided by Hawaiian values of land and community permeates everything we do. Our diverse community strengthens us, and makes it possible for us to address global issues with perspective that few can match. Our success comes down to our desire to do better and to be our best selves, despite any adversity.
And today we welcome and celebrate people who have chosen to be part of our campus community in this most challenging time, people who understand our mission and its importance and who want to join us on this journey and help us build the future that our students and our island deserve. We welcome them today to our ‘ohana, and I welcome you all to the new academic year.
You might expect that as a former literature professor, I would capture quotations from great works of literature, but you will find as you get to know me better, that I also pull quotations from songs. One of my favorites, from a song that Billie Holiday used to sing is most appropriate here: “The difficult I’ll do right now; the impossible will take a little while.” We have a lot to do ahead of us, but our students, our community, and our island are worth the effort.
I mua, UH Hilo, and mahalo for what each of you does every day for our students and our university.