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Category: Remarks, Messages, & Writings

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Dec. 2019: Expressing gratitude for what the community does for UH Hilo

Above: Interns, mentors, alumni, and staff from the Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Science, known as PIPES, celebrate winning the Outstanding Leadership Award at the 26th Annual Hawai‘i Conservation Conference held in Honolulu, July 10, 2019. PIPES is a wonderful example of professionals and experts in the local community providing some of the best learning experiences for students. Courtesy photo.

By Bonnie D. Irwin

Bonnie D. Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

One of the things I love most about the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is the way the community is so intricately woven into the university’s success. This is the beauty of regional universities: the community and university are interconnected, so the people are interconnected, and all are working together to help everyone move successfully into the future.

As we near the end of the year, a time to celebrate the holidays, I’d like to take this opportunity to express gratitude for what the community does for UH Hilo, especially for our students.

For example, a mainstay to the university’s success is the many partnerships we have with businesses, schools, organizations, agencies, and community groups across the island that provide some of the best learning experiences for our students. One area where this is especially effective is in internships.

Internships put students in real-world situations that give them the opportunity to use the skills and knowledge they are developing in their academic work. Many of our students are working with local groups to conduct research and do community outreach that befits everyone and, in many cases, the environment. None if this would be possible without the successful business people, exemplary professionals, and dedicated public servants who mentor and support our students.

For example, a cohort from our tropical conservation biology and environmental science graduate program has recently completed internships on the island at several different organizations: Hawai‘i Island Hawksbill Sea Turtle Recovery Project, the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Hui Mālama I ke Ala ‘Ūlili, and Hawai‘i Natural Area Reserve System. In each of these projects, experts in their field mentor our students in research and/or community service projects—on behalf of the university, let me say mahalo to each and every one of you for taking these students under your wings.

About 35 of our business students did or are doing internships in the community in 2019. Some of these are with local businesses such as HPM Building Supply (owned by the Fujimoto family, who also has established an endowment that benefits students in the College of Business and Economics) and Suisan, Hilo’s commercial fishing hub. These internships are established by longtime Hilo families who care about our students and who value our students’ contributions to their companies—our appreciation to the owners and employees of these businesses is immense.

Over the years, marine science students have interned with several local businesses in both professional and research-based positions: Kampachi Farms, Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System, Ke Kai Ola of The Marine Mammal Center. Quite a few of the interns have been hired at the place where they interned such as at the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center, Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm, Kona Diving, and Hawai‘i Wildlife Center. At each of these places our students found dedicated mentors who not only guided them in the task at hand, but also helped them find the path to their future—mahalo to you.

These are just a few examples of members of our community who dedicate their time and expertise to our students and to whom we feel much gratitude—mahalo all.

I would be remiss in writing a column on gratitude to not include two groups of people who are foundational blocks of UH Hilo.

I send a big aloha to our Vulcan Booster Club. The club receives donations from alumni, friends, and family to provide student-athletes with the support they need—through scholarships and other funding—to succeed in sports AND in their academics. And Boosters are the biggest, most enthusiastic fans at the games! A big mahalo to all members of the club.

Before I close, let me send a big aloha and mahalo to the many donors who contributed to UH Hilo this year. Behind every donation is someone who really cares about our students. Some donors see it as an investment in the future. Alumni donors may see it as a way to pay it forward. All see it as a way to expand access to higher education and help students get their degree so they can successfully move into the future to change the world.

From the bottom of my heart, mahalo to all for your support of UH Hilo.

Aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Nov. 2019: About our responsibility to the community

By Bonnie D. Irwin

Bonnie D. Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

Our island recently lost a true pillar of the community with the passing of Barry Taniguchi. Our island and state mourn with Barry’s ‘ohana as we honor his extraordinary dedication to our island’s communities and to the health and well-being of our island’s people.

Barry’s legacy is an inspiration to us all to persist in our pursuit of building and strengthening our island communities for the benefit of all. After attending his funeral and hearing all the moving eulogies, I came away with a profound sense of responsibility to the community, thinking about how we all must step up to fill the void he’s left behind; I felt inspired to help move the community forward.

So here I would like to communicate some of the ways the UH Hilo ‘ohana is serving our community, driven by the goal of bettering this place in which we are privileged to live. I’ll also share some thoughts about how I envision expanding and strengthening our outreach into the future.

Economic development

Through consultation with community leaders throughout the region, UH Hilo adjusts and develops academic programs to meet workforce needs. We’ve seen this in recently established baccalaureate programs in accounting and environmental science, graduate programs in conservation biology and heritage management, and doctoral programs in nursing practice and Hawaiian and Indigenous language and culture revitalization. Graduates from these programs are professionals woven into the fabric of our communities, doing the work that improves the quality of life for everyone.

When talking about regional economic development, it’s important to note the important work of our business college alumni. Graduates from the College of Business and Economics are managers, financial advisers, accountants, bankers, entrepreneurs, and business professionals who help our local citizens with their personal and professional business needs.

Looking ahead, programs in the planning stage are baccalaureate degrees in the emerging fields of aeronautical science and data science. In speaking with our nursing and pharmacy faculty, I have learned of our work in integrated health care and rural health, where health professionals working in teams are needed to provide the best level of service. We are also assembling a group on campus to start financial literacy programming in order to help our students and their families not only navigate the costs of college, but also prepare to be fiscally responsible citizens.

I look forward to working with Hawai‘i Community College Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas and other regional leaders to determine how best our institutions can continue to prepare a workforce for the future.

Regional sustainability

Between our campus composting program, energy reduction efforts, and agriculture and science programs, UH Hilo is modeling sustainable practices and continually looking to improve these practices. We are doing our part in helping our island home become more self-sufficient, utilizing the expertise of our faculty and staff, and inspiring our students to find new ways of stewarding our environment for future generations.

As part of our strategy to implement the UH System Sustainability Policy, we’re looking to increase courses that integrate sustainability through ‘āina- and culture-based curricula and activities such as service-learning and undergraduate research. Our students benefit greatly from a learning environment that speaks to our island culture and is infused with local languages, protocols, values, wisdoms, expertise, and ways of knowing about sustainability.

P-20 education

Education is our core business, of course, and we partner with local schools in numerous ways. ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center is inspiring thousands of island keiki to pursue science through the lens of Hawaiian culture. I had the opportunity to visit Pūnana Leo o Hilo and Ke Kula ‘O Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu to see our language revitalization efforts in action in Hawaiian immersion schools. I have learned about the various fitness and athletics activities, from sports clinics staffed by our student athletes to the children’s swim program that our campus recreation department hosts every summer. And, of course, our School of Education continues to provide training and continuing education for local teachers.

Civic education

I often say that if we cannot have respectful conversations about controversial issues on a university campus, it probably won’t happen anywhere. We not only model how to do this, but teach our students the value of respect and empathy for others. We partner with local professionals in this work, and this is an area upon which we can build, especially at a time when our country and state are dealing with weighty issues about which there are many perspectives. I hope to expand these efforts to encompass community dialogues.

I look forward to learning more about the needs of our communities, island, state and region, and doing all I can to position and adapt UH Hilo to help bring an exciting and bright future to all. Mahalo for all your support.

Aloha,

Bonnie Irwin

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Oct. 2019: Time to listen, time to learn

By Bonnie D. Irwin

When I first visited the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo nearly a year ago for my interview, I was asked what I might do in the first six months, and my response was, “listen.” In the months since I arrived, I have had the opportunity to meet with some business leaders and community groups, and with the arrival of the faculty back on campus, I have started visiting the various units on campus as well. There are so many good ideas and so many people of good will. My “listening tour” will take months to complete, but I’d like to share a recent event with you that shows so well the collaborative spirit of our campus ‘ohana.

On Sept. 20, Hawai‘i Community College Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas hosted me and others from UH Hilo for a joint wala‘au or discussion about the future of our campuses (photo of us at wala‘au at top of this column). Faculty, staff, and administrators from both campuses were invited to share their mana‘o and their vision of the future for Hawai‘i Island’s students, particularly transfer students. Specifically, we focused on ways to build strong pathways of student success between Hawai‘i CC and UH Hilo.

Over soup and sandwiches, we discussed strategies to smooth the way for students interested in transferring from Hawai‘i CC to UH Hilo. It was an exciting session filled with hope for the future of our students and Hawai‘i Island.

People shared examples of what is working, and some shared stories about successful classes and spaces, and about hardworking support staff helping students struggling with the transition.

We also identified areas still to work on: aligning curriculum and our learning expectations, so that students who move from one institution to the other do not lose any time toward completing their degree; minimizing the paperwork for transfers, and even better, imagining what dual enrollment might look like. What if a student could be admitted to both schools at the same time and just move seamlessly from one to the next at the appropriate time? Indeed, when we took a poll among those in attendance, “seamless” was the word most often mentioned as what we would like the students to experience as a successful transfer.

Farrah-Marie Gomes speaks, holding microphone, people listening seated at tables behind her.
UH Hilo Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Farrah-Marie Gomes shares her mana‘o with the group at the first joint wala‘au or discussion about the future of UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College, Sept. 20, 2019. Photos of wala‘au by Raiatea Arcuri.

Some of the people at the wala‘au shared programs they were working on that might accomplish that seamless transition. The energy and good will in the room was palpable. I met faculty and staff who have worked at both campuses, and they shared what they thought we could improve, and along with the two chancellors and our teams, committed to working together in the future.

Other highlights from the listening tour thus far:

  • Meeting the Vulcan Booster Club and seeing their enthusiastic support for our student-athletes
  • Learning about the partnerships our Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science graduate program has with local and state agencies
  • Sitting down with our marketing committee to chat about how we can better tell the story of UH Hilo
  • An open meeting with students in which I could hear their concerns directly
  • Talking with staff of the Division of Student Affairs and learning how we can build on the excellent programs we have and build even better support for our students outside the classroom
  • Touring Hale‘olelo, the College of Hawaiian Language, and seeing the ways in which we are helping to revitalize Hawaiian language and culture
  • And many other meetings with faculty and staff from departments throughout campus

At the core of these meetings and discussions I consistently find in people a deep sense of commitment and dedication to our students and a feeling of hope for the future. I want to thank each and every one of you for your support of our students and for constantly striving to improve our services, curriculum, and community outreach. We need to be open minded about how we deliver education and I look forward to more discussions, more sharing, and more learning over the coming months.

Aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

 

Photo at top, from left, Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas and Chancellor Bonnie Irwin at wala‘au, Sept. 20. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri.

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Chancellor Irwin featured in Midweek Hawai‘i Island: A Venue For Collegiate Success

Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin is featured in Midweek Hawai‘i Island this week.

Excerpt:

When University of Hawai‘i at Hilo students returned to campus last week, there was a new face waiting to greet them. Bonnie Irwin, who began her tenure as the university’s chancellor on July 1, has big plans for the small-town university.

“I have spent most of my life in smaller communities,” says Irwin, who previously was provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University, Monterey Bay.

“While I have a lot to learn about the diverse cultures that make up Hilo and Hawai‘i Island, I know a lot about small towns and small campuses. Relationships matter. I am committed to transparency in the way we operate, consultation with faculty and staff about how we do what we do, and empowering others to grow and become leaders themselves.”

Regional universities in small communities have a greater impact on the local area than the bigger research universities, says Irwin, who has more than 30 years of experience in higher education, including positions at University of California, Berkeley, and Eastern Illinois University. Irwin continues to seek out opportunities in places where she feels she can make the greatest difference.

Read full article at Midweek Hawai‘i Island.

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Sept. 2019: The magic of higher education

The magic of higher education: When we are successful at it, we open the door to opportunity for individuals, families, and communities.

By Bonnie D. Irwin

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

The opening week of the fall semester is here! It’s second only to commencement week in its level of activity, enthusiasm, and hope for the future. Students are arriving to the campus of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo from across the state, nation, and the world as well as from down the street. UH Hilo rightly prides itself on the wide diversity of ethnic and cultural origins of our students. Indeed, The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked us last year as the most diverse public four-year university in the country.

Yet there is still one over-arching thing all these students have in common: the desire to better themselves and to provide a bright future for themselves and their families. And that is the magic of higher education when we are successful at it; we open the door to opportunity for individuals, families, and communities.

The UH Hilo Student Success Leadership Team has been hard at work both on recruiting students and keeping them here. We have bold goals for student success, and I am pleased to see so many good initiatives underway. We are continuing to work on pathways for students from UH community colleges into UH Hilo baccalaureate programs. We are creating more organized and intentional opportunities for community service and community-based research projects for our students. We are trying to expand employment opportunities for students on campus, so they can hone their job skills and build their resumés while helping their peers succeed.

Our new students were so excited to participate in First-Year Experience activities during Orientation last month. The campus community welcomed our newest Vulcans warmly with four days of activities—workshops, fairs, tours, shuttles, various socials, and a beautiful convocation ceremony—introducing them to our university and our community. The enthusiasm was palpable and I was honored to participate. Students are excited to be in college, excited to be at UH Hilo, and of course, a bit anxious about life at the university and how it might differ from the high school or community college they have come from.

We are also focusing on activities for continuing students: research experiences, internships, community service, study abroad. All of these provide valuable opportunities for students to apply what they are learning in class to real world situations. One of my goals for UH Hilo is to provide more of these opportunities for more students, so that they are competitive for good jobs and good graduate schools. At UH Hilo, they get the one-on-one attention that really enhances their learning, something larger schools cannot compete with.

Woven into all of this activity is a feeling of ‘ohana; our campus is relationship driven. We create lasting bonds and friendships among our students and between our students and members of the entire campus community, including faculty and staff, relationships that take them forward into life with the full support they need to succeed.

Thank you all for your support of our students! I am looking forward to the coming year.

Aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

 

Photo: New Vulcans on the Campus Center Plaza for the start of UH Hilo Student Orientation activities on Wednesday, Aug. 21. Nyssa Kushi, University Relations.

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