Press "Enter" to skip to content

Category: Remarks & Writings

Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai’s first monthly column: A time of change at UH Hilo

My role at this point in time is to be a steward of the process, and I embrace the responsibility—the kuleana—to create stability for our university community while we move forward together.

By Marcia Sakai.

I’m writing this column as I prepare to become interim chancellor of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo on Aug. 1. For those of you who don’t know me, I joined the UH Hilo faculty in 1991 in the field of economics becoming tenured and promoted to the top professor ranks over the years. I was the founding dean of UH Hilo’s College of Business and Economics in 2005, and have been vice chancellor for administrative affairs since 2011.

I begin my new work as interim chancellor during a time of much change at the university. Not only is there change in the Office of the Chancellor with former Chancellor Don Straney being reassigned to his new UH System leadership role as vice president of academic planning and policy, but there are also changes in other leadership positions at UH Hilo.

Professor of Geology Ken Hon is new interim vice chancellor for academic affairs, and we will soon have an interim vice chancellor for administrative affairs when I take leave from my current position. Professor of History Michael Bitter is now interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Economics Tam Vu is interim dean of the College of Business and Economics.

And there is even more change underway.

The university is developing a new Enrollment Management Plan that takes an integrated, strategic and holistic approach to student success.

We have a goal of returning our enrollment to 2010 levels by the year 2020 and are redeploying resources into a number of initiatives, such as strengthening and developing new student and residence life programming and creating pathways for transfer students from Hawai‘i.
This is part of a UH system-wide initiative to focus on our core education function and grow enrollment, even while the general national trend is for continued higher education enrollment decline. Each of the 10 campuses are developing their own enrollment management plans with specific goals.

And we are reorganizing the College of Arts and Sciences—our largest of five colleges—into two new college units. This will remove an administrative layer between the dean and the faculty to facilitate communication and active faculty engagement in retention activities. This year we will undertake process modifications for the two new colleges to make them fully functional. The overall goal is to foster student success and better use of resources.

This is a lot of change for any university community, but we have good people doing amazing things at UH Hilo (think teaching, research, community outreach). From this strong base, we can regain balance and shift our focus to getting our work done.

My role at this point in time is to be a steward of the process, and I embrace the responsibility—the kuleana—to create stability for our university community while we move forward together. Change creates opportunities and it creates challenges. My goal is to help our students, faculty, staff and other administrators see the opportunities and know they can continue to be productive and successful in their work.

UH Hilo is my home. And what I’ve grown to value most are people—our students, our university ‘ohana, and our greatest supporters, the people of our island. It is an honor and privilege to be entrusted with the responsibility to serve as UH Hilo’s steward and leader. I look forward to working with both the university community and our island community to create a more responsive and more accessible university for the people of our island and state.


Marcia Sakai

Message from Chancellor Straney: I am stepping down as chancellor of UH Hilo

Though I will be working for the UH System, please know that my commitment to and appreciation of UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Island remain strong.

Aloha UH Hilo ‘Ohana,

It has been my great honor to have served as chancellor for this campus for the past seven years. I am stepping down as chancellor of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo effective August 1, 2017, and will be taking a position at the University of Hawai‘i System as vice president of academic planning and policy, subject to Board of Regents approval. An open search for our next permanent chancellor will begin in fall 2017.

Marcia Sakai
Marcia Sakai

Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Marcia Sakai will be appointed interim chancellor of UH Hilo by UH President David Lassner, subject to Board of Regents approval. Dr. Sakai joined the UH Hilo faculty in 1991. She was the founding dean of the College of Business and Economics, leading the college through its initial AACSB accreditation which made UH Hilo’s CoBE just one of 579 institutions worldwide, at that time, with such accreditation. She brought her experience and ability to bear in serving as vice chancellor for administrative affairs since 2011. She is eminently qualified to lead our campus during this interim period, and I ask everyone to support her and to continue to do the great work that you are doing day in and day out.

After seven years at UH Hilo, please know that this was an extremely difficult decision. My time here in Hilo has been such a rewarding professional experience. UH Hilo is an amazing institution that provides invaluable service to our community, our island, our state and beyond. The campus welcomed me with open arms and I enjoyed remarkable warmth and acceptance from total strangers, who quickly became great friends. The aloha spirit is real and it is alive and well on our island.

Though I will be working for the UH System, please know that my commitment to and appreciation of UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Island remain strong.

It was my privilege to serve in this special place, with so many dedicated and passionate faculty and staff. I want to thank each and every one of you for your commitment to our campus and community.

Mahalo nui loa for your years of support,

Don Straney

Chancellor’s Message: New program will help produce a generation of big data scientists

This type of data specialty is of the utmost importance to moving our island communities and fragile ecosystems into the future successfully.

By Don Straney.

UH Hilo seal, red with the words University of Hawaii ant the state motto.The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo takes seriously its responsibility to be a good steward to our island’s people, culture and natural resources. This summer the university will be taking the first steps toward creating a new Data Science program to the benefit of Hilo and other island communities here and throughout the Pacific.

The first of four tenure-track professors who will lead the program starts his work with us in August. Grady Weyenberg, who grew up in Hilo, is a statistician and will be joined in the near future by additional experts in mathematics, computer science, and the natural and social sciences to help build the program.

The program is part of a statewide project funded by the National Science Foundation, which awarded the UH System $20 million last year to do a five-year study of water sustainability issues throughout the state. The project is called ʻIke Wai (Knowledge, Water) and has the overall goal of gathering new data on groundwater flow, sustainable yield, and economic impact. The data will help communities and state decision makers preserve Hawaiʻi’s water resources for the future.

‘Ike Wai is a collaborative project with data scientists and water researchers working statewide alongside local communities, indigenous peoples, government agencies and businesses to generate scientific data. Partners also include undergraduate students, graduate students, postdocs and junior faculty to address water challenges at the academic and policy level. This is where UH Hilo’s contributions come in.

Training the professionals of the future

As part of the ʻIke Wai program, new degree programs at UH Hilo will help produce a new generation of big data scientists and data analytics professionals in Hawaiʻi. To start, Dr. Weyenberg and the new faculty team will work with existing faculty to develop a Data Science Certificate Program, followed by a baccalaureate degree. In addition to developing curricula, they will also teach courses and mentor students.

The first cohorts of the new Data Science program will analyze data sets generated by the ‘Ike Wai project’s five-year study, assisting in the creation of a data-driven, sustainable water future for the state of Hawaiʻi and our Pacific neighbors. Students will have further opportunities to hone their data analysis skills by supporting research faculty, whose projects connected to the ‘Ike Wai project generate large amounts of data.

This type of data is of the utmost importance to moving our island communities and fragile ecosystems into the future successfully. Increasing population, changing land use practices, and issues relating to climate change are contributing to growing concerns over water quality and quantity in Hawaiʻi. In bringing together UH faculty and resources, state and federal agencies, and community partners, the ‘Ike Wai project will address critical gaps in the understanding of Hawaiʻi’s water supply that limit decision making, planning and crisis responses.

The project is multidisciplinary in scope with elements of geophysics, microbiology, cyberinfrastructure, data modeling, indigenous knowledge, and economic forecasting. By university scientists and budding student researchers working in partnerships with state and federal agencies and community groups, a comprehensive data base will be created to assist with important decisions that will move our state forward into a sustainable future.

Visit the EPSCoR website to learn more about the Data Science program and the ‘Ike Wai project.


Don Straney

Chancellor’s Message: UH Hilo celebrates cultural heritage, sustainability, and diversity

It was a beautiful Spring Commencement celebrating cultural heritage, sustainability, and diversity, reaffirming our responsibilities in addressing the challenges of our time.

By Don Straney.

Professor places hood on graduate's shoulders.
Prof. of Anthropology Peter Mills (right) bestows candidate with hood for Master of Arts in Heritage Management. 2017 Spring Commencement celebrated the first cohort to graduate from the new UH Hilo program.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo celebrated a milestone at Spring Commencement last month: the university graduated its first candidates for a Master of Arts in Heritage Management.

Students in the new program train for heritage-related careers in both the public and private sector to interpret, preserve, and perpetuate cultural heritage—something of immense value to our local communities and indigenous culture.

UH Hilo takes seriously its responsibility to our island communities and indigenous culture, and community-based archaeology is a vital aspect of Hawaiian cultural revitalization.

In a paper on the importance of cultural resource management professionals, Peter Mills, professor of anthropology, writes that Hawai‘i struggles with many issues confronting heritage management programs globally. Grass roots efforts to better manage Hawaiian cultural sites are increasing, and state regulations require cultural resource managers to have an advanced degree—yet graduate training in anthropology and related fields in Hawai‘i is limited.

Let me share a story of one of the graduates to show the importance of this degree to our island families and communities.

Lokelani Brandt with baby
Lokelani Brandt

Lokelani Brandt received her bachelor of arts in anthropology with a minor in Hawaiian studies from UH Hilo in 2012 after receiving her primary education at Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u Hawaiian immersion school. She and her husband both have careers in Hilo (Lokelani is a lecturer for the Hawai‘i Life Styles Program at Hawai‘i Community College) and they would like to raise their family here.

With her newly received master of arts degree, Lokelani has accepted a full-time position in Hilo with ASM Affiliates, a major archaeological consulting firm. With her advanced degree in hand, she will be qualified to serve as a principal investigator on ASM’s field projects.

This type of career option will be very meaningful to many of our undergraduate students of Native Hawaiian ancestry—there is now an option to pursue professional leadership positions in archaeology and related fields rather than only volunteering for grass-roots organizations.

As Peter writes: “A shift in perspective is required, for example instead of viewing and interpreting ‘archaeological sites’ as significant only for their data, these cultural sites should be viewed as vital parts of a living Hawaiian culture.”

Watching these graduates at Commencement during the traditional “hooding” ceremony was a moving experience, knowing that the cohort will be going out into the world as professionals now credentialed to help preserve “a living Hawaiian culture.”


Along with UH Hilo’s responsibility to protect our islands’ cultural heritage, the university also accepts responsibility—given our location and resources—to learn with and from other island nations in the Pacific region. Our keynote speaker was President Tommy Esang Remengesau, Jr, of the Republic of Palau, an internationally recognized leader on environmental issues not the least of which is his leadership in the historic effort to implement the Palau National Marine Sanctuary.

President Remengesau’s remarks focused on the responsibilities we all share in taking care of our island states, communities, and environment. This great man practices what he preachers—his work and visionary leadership is inspirational as we proceed in working together on the challenges of our time: sustainability, environmental protection and cultural preservation.

In addition to these responsibilities, the university also remains committed to safeguarding human rights, notably the rights of our LGBTQ+ community.

Our student speaker at commencement, Karla Kapo‘aiola Ahn, a performing arts major and entertainer who often performs music on campus, spoke about her gender transition and about how UH Hilo—in particular Professor of Drama Jackie Johnson, just retired—provided the unconditional support she needed to realize her full potential in her studies and in her life while at the university.

Karla personifies our pride in being the nation’s most diverse university system. We live the aloha spirit.

It was a beautiful Commencement celebrating cultural heritage, sustainability, and diversity, reaffirming our responsibilities in addressing the challenges of our time.


Don Straney

Chancellor’s Message to Faculty and Staff

Thank you again for all you do to prepare our students to become tomorrow’s leaders.

As another academic year comes to a close, I’d like to take this opportunity to personally thank all of you, our faculty and staff. These last few weeks are always a period of transition, but what makes UH Hilo so special is the hard work and dedication each of you put in throughout the entire year to help our students succeed.

In just a few days we will mark another successful year as we present our year-end awards, recognize years of service, and pass along our best wishes to our friends and colleagues who are retiring or moving on to other pursuits. Later, we will gather for spring commencement to celebrate the accomplishments of our students, which goes to the very heart of our mission, and recognize three faculty members for teaching excellence. These events are a timely reminder that our accomplishments are the product of an outstanding team effort. Thank you again for all you do to prepare our students to become tomorrow’s leaders.

Have a safe, happy and productive summer.

Don Straney

-via May issue of the Ka Lono Hanakahi, UH Hilo’s faculty/staff newsletter.