Skip to content →

Category: Remarks, Messages, & Writings

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

Comments closed

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

Comments closed

Presentation: University Update to the UH Board of Regents, Nov. 17, 2022

For their monthly meeting, the University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents met at UH Hilo on Nov. 17, 2022 (see full agenda and materials). The meeting was held at the UH Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy and was the first BOR meeting held on a neighbor island campus since November 2019 due to the pandemic.

On the agenda was a presentation by Chancellor Bonnie Irwin who gave the regents an update on UH Hilo. Also presenting for UH Hilo: Karen Pellegrin of the Faculty Congress, Lei Kapono on behalf of the Hanakahi Council, Blaine Bautista and Matthew Kalahiki of the Staff Council, and student Blue of the UH Hilo Student Association.

Here is the PowerPoint of the presentation. Click images to enlarge.

Title slide: University Update to the UH Board of Regents

Comments closed

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, November 2022: Who are our students?

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

As we watch the university enrollment trends across the country, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo is not too different from our peers. Nationwide, there are fewer college-aged students to go around, and colleges and universities compete for enrollment and try to distinguish themselves as best we can. Almost every university touts individual attention, expert faculty and meaningful student experiences. We can argue that UH Hilo does these things better, but when everyone else is making the same claim, it becomes hard to distinguish our excellence. Why do certain students choose UH Hilo and how do we know who will thrive here? These are the questions that our recent data efforts seek to answer.

We start with data.

Who comes to UH Hilo? Like many other places, we see more women coming through our doors than men—64% vs. 35% (1% did not report). We know we serve an ethnically diverse population. Indeed US News & World Report has named us the most diverse National University for the last few years. Within that diversity, about a third of our students identify as Native Hawaiian, 19% as Asian, and 24% Caucasian. Most notably, and a reflection of our island, some 14% identify themselves as mixed race. As I have noted before, this diversity is one of the great strengths of our campus and our community.

We serve mostly Hawaiʻi residents: 71% of our students are considered residents for admissions purposes. Of those students, the majority come from Hawaiʻi county. We are the local campus, the most affordable university option. Still, many families choose to send students to the countinent for their education. That is certainly understandable, given the desire that young people (and their parents) have for a broader experience, but how many of our local families know that UH Hilo is a member of the National Student Exchange, which allows our students to attend another university on the continent while paying their in-state UH tuition? The same applies to our numerous international exchange partners.

Once we know who comes, the harder question to answer is, “Who stays?” For example, we find that the graduation rate for Native Hawaiian students is roughly the same as that for the student body as a whole. Our Native Hawaiian support programs, such as peer mentoring, certainly help with this. We will learn from these programs to see how we can best support other students. We also know that we retain and graduate our resident students at a higher rate than our out-of-state students.

The companion question, of course, is, “Who leaves?” A group of faculty and staff participated in the Student Success Data Analytics program last year, and the issue that they have chosen to tackle is how the leaving and staying play out among our transfer students. Once we learn who leaves and who stays (by major, by race, by residence), we will follow up with focus groups and interviews. Why do people leave? We know that sometimes there are personal issues that come up that cannot be avoided. If a non-resident student leaves, we also consider the impact of homesickness. Other times, a student decides on an academic path that is not available here. In some cases, a student may never have planned to stay, but opted to start at Hilo because it was convenient.

Finding answers to these questions will allow us to better serve our students, grow our enrollment, and ensure that UH Hilo remains the vibrant and successful university that that Hawai‘i needs and Hawai‘i Island deserves.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin
Chancellor, UH Hilo

Comments closed

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Oct. 2022: Preparing students for local and Pacific Island jobs

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

In the interest of continuous improvement and providing rich experiences for students, this last summer, teams of faculty and staff from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo visited with the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) in Kona and the ʻIole Stewardship Center in Kohala. Both visits were part of our island-wide strategy of making sure students are ready for their chosen careers and using our people power to help our ʻāina and our communities.

Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority

At NELHA, faculty learned how they might better prepare our students for the work of work in the various industries represented. As we look to the ocean environment more and more for food and environmental health, numerous skills are needed. If one wants to work in aquaculture, for example, having strong background in fish physiology is essential.

For other areas, some background in marine technology and engineering would be useful, even for those students who do not intend to become engineers. There will be consistent need for trained professionals and NELHA, and having faculty learn more about those needs helps UH Hilo design our curriculum accordingly.

Across the country, colleges and universities are hearing from employers that improved communications skills are needed. Many students hate public speaking, but they realize that they will need to deliver reports and make presentations in almost any job they pursue. Connecting the university with employers helps communicate this message even more clearly.

For many of the small start-ups at NELHA, some business acumen is also essential. Thus our College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management is looking to infuse their curriculum with courses in business and the bioeconomy.

ʻIole Stewardship Center

At the ʻIole Stewardship Center, UH Hilo faculty learned of the vision of ʻIole to create a 21st-century ahupuaʻa, a place where an indigenous worldview meets conservation and resource management. If our natural science, geography, Hawaiian studies and anthropology students can become practitioners of aloha and ʻāina, we can prepare them for local and Pacific Island jobs as well as have them give back to the community.

Projects that faculty and students undertake at ʻIole will range from mapping the site to understanding the distribution of native and invasive species to understanding the historical ecology of ʻIole. This work, done in partnership with ʻIole, colleagues from UH and Arizona State University, and the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, has the potential to demonstrate how we will live and work on islands far into the future and begin to slow the damage wrought by ignoring our environment.

UH Hilo is a campus anchored in this place which thrives on relationships. The connections forged by our faculty and staff this summer are great examples of how building relationships will help us all thrive: richer educational experiences for students and contributions to our island ʻāina and ʻohana.

With aloha,
Bonnie D. Irwin

Comments closed