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Category: Remarks & Writings

Interim Chancellor’s Final Monthly Column, June 2019: UH Hilo’s role in the community

As we move forward, I encourage all of you to work together for the common good.

By Marcia Sakai.

UH Hilo seal, red lettering University of Hawaii and the state motto.This is my final column as interim chancellor—the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo will welcome a new chancellor to campus on July 1. Chancellor-Designate Bonnie Irwin is on her way and looking forward to working with students, faculty, staff, alumni, island leaders and community members to build on the decades of great work to move UH Hilo and the community forward. I’m excited about this upcoming chapter in UH Hilo’s progress.

Like other universities and colleges, UH Hilo serves a unique role for its community in helping all citizens achieve a better quality of life. Through affordable high quality education, UH Hilo graduates gain workforce skills for the evolving economy of the future.

For example, a new certificate in data science began last fall and the university plans to seek approval for a bachelor’s degree in data science in 2020. A new aeronautical sciences degree program was approved by the UH Board of Regents last November with one track in commercial professional pilot training, and another in commercial aerial information technology (which utilizes drones), where there is a high projected workforce need in the state.

And our Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program was recently granted permanent status by the BOR–the program provides training for students to become family nurse practitioners or FNPs, considered primary care providers with global prescriptive authority. The program’s objective is to provide nurses with doctoral-level education focusing on primary care, cultural diversity, health disparities, health promotion and disease prevention in rural communities. A leadership track is offered for those interested in this area of practice. Eleven students graduated last month with their Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

Also graduating with the Class of 2019*—with a total of 640 students petitioning for degrees and/or certificates—were 74 with Doctor of Pharmacy degrees, 16 with a Master of Arts in Teaching, and 70 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (*unofficial numbers until later this summer). These are professionals who will now serve communities well here on our island and throughout the state and region.

In addition, UH Hilo is a catalyst for economic growth through the creation and application of knowledge, as well as the economic impact of the millions of dollars spent by the university and its faculty, staff, students and graduates in the community.

Further, the Board of Regents recent decision to hold tuition flat for the three years 2020-2023 is an additional boost. The tuition freeze works to reduce barriers to access and will provide an incentive for degree completion over the period of level rates. Graduates can acquire the know-how to successfully become part of the island workforce, without having to worry about rising tuition rates.

A 2016 analysis by College of Business and Economics Interim Dean Tam Vu and economics student Scott Ashida found that graduation rates contribute significantly to the production of income in Hawai‘i County. They also found that UH Hilo provides a major economic stimulus for the island because of its employment of people in our community and because of spending by the university, its employees and its students which becomes income for our local places of business. This spending at its ripple effect strengthens the island’s economic base.

It has been a pleasure serving as interim chancellor and I thank each of you for your support of the university. As we move forward, I encourage all of you to work together for the common good. We must continue to work hard for the benefit of UH Hilo students, and we must continue to work together collectively. UH Hilo is a special place, comprised of outstanding, caring people. The value our campus ‘ohana and local community bring to our university is exemplary.

I wish you my very best. Have a wonderful and productive summer.

Marcia Sakai

End-of-Year Message to UH Hilo ‘Ohana from Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai

Aloha UH Hilo ‘Ohana,

As we start finals week and look forward to commencement on Saturday, I’d like to share with you a few highlights of the past semester.


Graduate and undergraduate women students planned and organized the inaugural Women in STEM Conference held in February. The all-day event brought together women leaders, scientists, students, and members of the campus community to discuss the current state of affairs for women in the STEM fields. Topics covered social history of women in STEM, the importance of mentorship, the issues of sexual harassment, mental health, the wage gap, work-family-life balance, retaining women STEM students, and creating a supportive climate for underrepresented minorities in STEM.

The concept of a campus food pantry for students in need was developed by business student Jordan Kamimura. Hale Pa‘i ‘Ai, a one-year pilot project that launched a soft opening in April, is officially opening this fall to provide services to students in need of reliable access to food. The Administrative Affairs project is to help students who may experience limited access to food at different times of the year due to lack of money and other resources. Jordan’s business concept includes pop-up concessions on campus to provide funding support.

Marcia Sakai, Jordan Kamimura, and Kalei Rapoza standing in front of the Teapresso concession.
Left to right, Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai, business student Jordan Kamimura, and Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Kalei Rapoza at the rollout event of the Teapresso Bar concession March 13, UH Hilo. The concession will support the new food pantry program on campus; Kamimura created the business plan for the pop-up and food pantry. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri, click to enlarge.

Our Marine Option Program students once again made a big splash at the annual statewide MOP Symposium. Bryant Grady’s project on reef ecology won Best Research Presentation, which has been won by UH Hilo Marine Option Program students for 26 of the past 31 years. Alexa Runyan won the Pacon Award for the best use of technology.

Three UH Hilo students presented their research projects at the annual meeting of the worldwide Society for Applied Anthropology held in Oregon where 2,000 academics and consultants attended the event. UH Hilo undergraduate Alexis Cabrera, with the mentorship of anthropology professor Lynn Morrison, won 3rd prize out of 90 student submissions (mostly master’s and doctoral projects) for her poster presentation.

Senior Rebekah Loving, from Hāmākua and double majoring in computer science and mathematics, is researching RNA sequencing and her work has gained the attention of a “who’s who” of top research universities across the country. Rebekah has received acceptance letters with offers of full funding to doctoral programs in biostatistics, computational biology, and computer science from Harvard, Columbia University, University of California Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology.


The extraordinary work of our faculty was noticed throughout the world.

The Jan. 23 airing of PBS’s NOVA, about the 2018 Kīlauea eruption, prominently featured UH Hilo scientists Cheryl Gansecki and Ryan Perroy and their work on chemistry analysis and aerial monitoring of the flow respectively. Cheryl, a geologist, provided real-time chemistry analysis of lava samples that helped determine how the lava would behave and how fast it would move, crucial information for Civil Defense and other responders. A group of undergraduate and graduate students led by Ryan, a geographer, piloted drones day and night capturing thermo and regular imagery of the lava flows, gathering critical information for the government agencies overseeing the eruption response.

UH Hilo biologist Rebecca Ostertag and geologist Jené Michaud were part of a team awarded an international medal for their paper questioning a fundamental assumption in the field of restoration ecology—the researchers suggest that nonnative, noninvasive plant species can be an important part of Hawaiian forest restoration. The Bradshaw Medal is given by the Society for Ecological Restoration in recognition of a scientific paper published in the Society’s major journal, Restoration Ecology.

Making international news was the story about Maunakea astronomers collaborating with our very own Larry Kimura, renowned Hawaiian language professor and cultural practitioner, for the Hawaiian naming of the black hole recently discovered. Pōwehi, meaning embellished dark source of unending creation, is a name sourced from the Kumulipo, the primordial chant describing the creation of the Hawaiian universe. The name awaits official confirmation, but it has already made the world take notice of the deeply meaningful Native Hawaiian connection to the discovery.


Early in the semester, we hosted a two-day Islands of Opportunity Alliance conference. UH Hilo administers the alliance, a collaborative group of 10 partner institutions in American Sāmoa, Guam, Hawai‘i, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The partners all share the common goal of increasing underrepresented professionals in STEM fields and together we are working toward more diversity in the quest for and understanding of scientific knowledge.

Roundtable group seated in discussion.
The Islands of Opportunity conference was attended by approximately 30 participants from across the Pacific region, including campus coordinators and administrators from each of the 11 alliance institutions, as well as the governing board, two external advisory boards, and an external NSF evaluator from Washington D.C. Jan. 11, 2019, UH Hilo campus. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri, click to enlarge.

A 40-session listening tour is underway in preparation for UH Hilo’s new strategic plan. The inclusive planning process is creating a strong foundation for a living strategic plan for our campus. Among the members of the UH Hilo ‘ohana, listeners of the tour outcomes will include our new UH Hilo chancellor and a Strategic Planning Committee that will be formed once the permanent chancellor is in place.

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

This leads me to the long-awaited news we received of the unanimous approval from the UH Board of Regents in naming our new chancellor Bonnie Irwin. Chancellor-Designate Irwin is looking forward to working with students, faculty, staff, alumni, island leaders and community members to build on the decades of great work to move UH Hilo and the community forward. We will be welcoming her to our university ‘ohana on July 1.


Thank you to everyone for all your hard work and dedication toward making UH Hilo a remarkable place of knowledge and learning. May you all have a successful end of the academic year. I send my congratulations to our spring graduates—you do us proud and I look forward to seeing you make a difference in the world. I wish you all a safe and wonderful summer.


Marcia Sakai

Interim Chancellor’s Monthly Column, May 2019: Navigating change and complexity

Above, view of UH Hilo campus looking toward Student Services Building. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri.

Higher education throughout the country faces challenges that are systemic and the need for change is not just over the horizon but already here.

By Marcia Sakai.

The world in which we live is becoming increasingly complex and changing at an increasingly faster pace. This column takes a look at why the world of higher education is no different.

I have been fortunate during my career at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo to witness and participate in UH Hilo’s growth to become a full blown comprehensive university. With the support of the community, we now have an array of undergraduate majors in agriculture, the natural and health sciences, social science, culture and the arts, business, and pharmacy studies, and selected graduate programs in conservation biology and environmental science, nursing, Hawaiian language, teaching, and counseling.

Our campus facilities are well matched to this growth and include well maintained classroom and office buildings, student service and student life buildings, athletic facilities, residence halls, and instructional farm and aquaculture facilities.

But higher education throughout the country faces challenges that are systemic and the need for change is not just over the horizon but already here. Our approach to the changing environment of higher education is being shaped by several highly influential areas, and UH Hilo will need to position itself to meet these challenges.

Changing demographics

There are two clear demographic changes happening in higher education throughout the country that challenge the way higher education is currently modeled.

First, the number of high school graduates has stagnated across the nation, and even though projections currently show a slight growth in Hawai‘i, it’s believed the college-going population in the country will drop by 15 percent between 2025 and 2029. I believe that competition among institutions of higher education for this shrinking pool of traditional age college students will increase, and that we will see increased recruiting from out-of-state institutions for Hawai‘i high school seniors. This situation brings challenges to higher education in recruiting and in funding generated by tuition. But, UH Hilo brings value to the people it serves and will need to refine and better communicate this value.

Another change is that disruptive changes in industry will make career changes more frequent and more and more people will need to periodically update their education and knowledge. These are the non-traditional (25 years or older) students for whom evening classes and online courses are more attractive. UH Hilo’s development of online learning will need to address this group. Our master of arts in teaching currently serves working teachers who want to build stronger curriculum and pedagogy to improve our local schools and positively impact their students. We also are answering this challenge with new degree and certificate programs for future jobs such as in data science and aeronautical science.

The importance of liberal arts

UH Hilo is already helping to answer workforce needs for more scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians—the STEM disciplines. These are the professionals who will see us through the greatest challenges of the times: climate change, environmental conservation, biomedical discovery, health care, sustainability issues, and more.

But equally important in building a modern and resilient workforce is for all students to develop their core liberal arts skills. These are the skills that will support their transition through multiple career changes.

UH Hilo is at its core a liberal arts institution with core liberal arts values and an array of programs across a broad range of career pathways. By the time our students graduate with advanced knowledge in their chosen major, they have also gained foundational skills in written communication, language, reasoning, and an appreciation for multiculturalism, humanities and the arts, and natural and social sciences. Our students complete an education that prepares them well to adapt throughout their careers as industries rapidly change.

The challenge of funding

I would be remiss to leave out funding in a column devoted to challenges. Hawai‘i continues to provide among the largest share of public support for higher education, but annual tuition charges have grown to make up the difference in the cost of providing services. This clearly creates a barrier to access for many students who are our kuleana to educate. While the growing reliance on tuition can be related to the increased earning power of the graduate, which is a private benefit, I believe that we as a society need to reverse the view of education as a pure private good. Education for one benefits our communities and society at large, and investing in higher education is an investment in the future of our island and state.

The great equalizer

Higher education is the great equalizer. It provides social mobility and is the key to a successful democracy. UH Hilo’s challenge is to find the very best ways to continue our mission of providing access to higher education for the people of Hawai‘i island and the state, in order to build resiliency in itself and in our students for us all to move successfully into the future.


Marcia Sakai

Interim Chancellor’s Monthly Column, April 2019: Working toward organizational excellence

Together, the UH Hilo ‘ohana and our collaborative community partners are continuously working toward organizational excellence and moving our university successfully into the future.

By Marcia Sakai.

UH Hilo seal, red lettering University of Hawaii and the state motto.One of the top goals at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is to facilitate organizational excellence through continuous innovation, responsible resource development, and effective communication. We are continuously working to improve our planning, financial and human resource management, and accountability, demonstrating our commitment to the state of Hawaiʻi. An important part of this goal is for our employees to experience a collegial and enjoyable working environment that is exemplified by effective communication, clear processes, and procedures.

One good example of striving to meet this goal is the planning process of our new strategic plan, now underway. Currently, our strategic planning project manager Kathleen Baumgardner is conducting a listening tour across 40 campus units and elsewhere to seek input about historical progress and future needs from faculty, staff, students and the local community.

The sessions are organized around a series of questions rooted in “Appreciative Inquiry,” a model that seeks to engage all stakeholders in self-determined change. When people talk and communicate with one another through this collaborative process, they can co-construct the structures, strategies, and processes needed to move forward. Participants create the future they want by building on the best of the past. Problems are identified and participants consider how weaknesses might be overcome by strengths.

Members of the UH Hilo and local communities are encouraged to participate in this process. In addition to planning sessions, one way to contribute is by answering the “Question of the Month” found on the UH Hilo Strategic Planning website. Everyone is invited to participate.

Among the members of the UH Hilo ‘ohana, listeners of the tour outcomes will include our new UH Hilo chancellor (Bonnie Irwin arrives July 1) and a Strategic Planning Committee that will be formed once the permanent chancellor is in place. The committee will review the notes of all meetings as well as a summary report that will help inform the development of the next UH Hilo Strategic Plan.

Ultimately, the planning process will help create a foundation for an inclusive and living strategic plan for our campus. The new plan will be collaboratively developed and implemented, then monitored and revised on an ongoing basis to be effective and to guide us for years to come.

Effective communication

An example of facilitating organizational excellence through effective communication is found in our constant push to improve internal and external communication.

Internally, a new weekly email communication to the UH Hilo ‘ohana called Haʻilono has replaced the monthly Ka Lono Hanakahi faculty newsletter. In addition to being ADA compliant, this new “e-blast” allows us to share information with the university community in a much timelier manner. Brief information and links to more in-depth coverage are provided on a wide range of topics: academics, administration, awards, campus security, operations and services, faculty accomplishments, research, athletics, and upcoming events.

An overall and large undertaking is underway to bring our entire university website into ADA compliance. As a matter of equity and diversity, we are committed to ensuring that campus computing and information resources are accessible to disabled students, faculty, and staff. This is a longstanding requirement under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Web accessibility standards are newer, but part of our accessibility obligations and commitment. UH Hilo is well on the way to meeting its mandatory compliance.

In local media, this year’s special University Town insert in the March 24 edition of the Hawai‘i Tribune-Herald features our academic programs that were most asked about by Hawai‘i Island students attending college fairs and presentations. Topics covered are the new aeronautical science, computer science, and language revitalization programs. Our living-learning residential communities are also highlighted.

Also being published in the Hawaiʻi Tribune-Herald is Ka Nūpepa, that features UH Hilo six times throughout the course of this year, in full-page, full-color editorial and advertisement combinations. Topics include colleges and programs, all focused on student and faculty excellence.

And, I am enjoying our quarterly “talk story” coffees with the Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce members. I’ve been bringing along a faculty expert to share with our business leaders the latest news from different academic units, i.e., lava flow research, business theory, and community health care.


Before I close, I’d like to add that we are also working to strengthen university leadership, a crucial key to organizational excellence. Progress on this front is indicated by the identification of a permanent chancellor, the beginning of a review committee for the job of vice chancellor for academic affairs, and further plans for filling interim dean positions.

Together, the UH Hilo ‘ohana and our collaborative community partners are continuously working toward organizational excellence and moving our university successfully into the future. Mahalo to all who are engaged in the process.


Marcia Sakai

Interim Chancellor’s Column in Hawaii Tribune-Herald Special Section, University Town 2019

Column by Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai
Hawaii Tribune-Herald Special Section: University Town 2019
March 24, 2019

UH Hilo: A comprehensive university serving the community

UH Hilo seal, red lettering University of Hawaii and the state motto.The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo mission is to challenge students to reach their highest level of academic achievement by inspiring learning, discovery, and creativity inside and outside the classroom.

With core liberal arts values and an array of programs across a broad range of career pathways, our students complete an education that prepares them for continuous learning needed in the 21st century. By the time they graduate with advanced knowledge in their chosen major, our students have gained foundational skills in written communication, language, reasoning, and an appreciation for multiculturalism, humanities and the arts, and natural and social sciences.

Our students learn from many sources during their time with us, and I would like to focus this column on three foundational areas that prepare our students to achieve their goals and to be contributing members to the community.


With the deluge of information coming at us every day, good communication skills are crucial for professionals in the 21st century. This means mastery in delivering written and verbal information, and also in receiving information through active listening.

Throughout their years with us, students are required to explore and develop these skills through individual work and also through projects that require teamwork. For example, we have had students out in the community as interns listening to the needs of local businesses and organizations, helping to hone plans for better outcomes.

As we move into a data-filled future, communication also includes skills such as data visualization, a sophisticated form of scientific communication where large data sets are converted into simply designed presentations for other scientists or the general public. With new technology on campus, students are learning hands-on skills for creating effective data visualization products in a broad range of topical issues such as water conservation and natural disaster response.


Building strong communities is extremely important in our local culture, and UH Hilo takes pride in doing outreach that helps raise the quality of life for everyone. Every student at UH Hilo is offered opportunities to apply their classroom learning to the real world through internships, service learning, and community activities.

For example, the Pacific Internship Program for Exploring Science (PIPES) immerses students in internships each summer to help solve problems affecting our communities, such as climate change and invasive species. Our pharmacy college sponsors events that showcase research on prevalent health issues. Student-athletes go into local classrooms to inspire elementary students to read. Our students give back by paying forward.

Further, the North Hawai‘i Education and Research Center in Honoka‘a, while honoring the history and traditional culture, helps local high school students prepare for college, provides adults with lifelong learning activities, and gives the town a meeting place to gather and create new memories.
And our Center for Community Engagement offers non-credit courses open to everyone interested in lifelong learning. The center also supports faculty in community-engaged teaching, a perfect example of UH Hilo’s adage, “One learns from many sources.”


Our eyes are on the future, and it is clear that our island, region, and the world in general need knowledgeable, dedicated leaders to help communities meet unprecedented challenges. This is why a major goal of UH Hilo is to provide support to students to thrive, compete, and innovate to become leaders in their professional and personal lives.

One program to support this goal is the Student Leadership Development Program that instills cultural awareness, experiential learning, and wellness activities. The Ka Lama Ku Student Leadership Development Program is based on Native Hawaiian cultural values. And our UH Hilo Student Association is led by students honing their skills in politics, community organizing, and developing policy that will help solve the problems of tomorrow.

Moving into the future

Armed with an education founded in the liberal arts, the guidance of expert mentors, and a deep desire to make new discoveries that positively impact their communities, our students are learning from many sources and are already contributing to their selected fields, their communities, and the world.

Marcia Sakai