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Category: Remarks, Messages, & Writings

Chancellor’s Thanksgiving Message

Aloha Kākou,

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

Best wishes for the Thanksgiving holiday and the upcoming weekend. I hope everyone finds some time for rest and reflection.

It would be easy to think about what we don’t have this holiday, but I find myself turning more and more to gratitude for what we do have; chief among those things is one another. We are a resilient, caring community, dedicated to our mission of educating students and lifting up our community, and everyone continues to play an important role in that mission.

Mahalo to those of you who have reached out with empathy to your students and colleagues, taking on a part of their burden as well as your own. Please take some time this week to care for yourselves and find the joys, both large and small, that come with living in this special place among our family and friends.

In this holiday week, I share with you one of my favorite poems. The species referenced may not be quite relevant to Hawaiʻi, but the sentiment surely is.

Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

With gratitude for what you do every day for our students and for UH Hilo.

Bonnie D. Irwin


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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Nov. 2020: In appreciation

A message of thanks to everyone for all your hard work in making UH Hilo an excellent university ready to meet our students’ needs in these challenging times.

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

In this month’s column I’d like to express my sincere appreciation to some of the heroes at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and throughout the community who have stepped up during this challenging time.

There are the unsung heroes, the staff of UH Hilo, who are stepping up in countless ways to support our students and institution. From those on the front lines to those adapting to work from home, and everyone in between on hybrid schedules, you are the heart and soul of the university, keeping everything running smoothly and efficiently despite all the challenges at hand. I am especially grateful for the care and attention given to our students, making sure they are on track with their studies and staying safe while being physically and mentally active at their studies, work, and play.

Deep appreciation to our faculty for applying their ingenuity and dedication to students to provide the best experience possible. Everyone has stepped up beautifully to online teaching, and our students are excelling. Many in the faculty had to learn new technology and then figure out logistics to recreate the classroom experience as closely as possible. Through this resourcefulness, many have discovered unexpected benefits to online teaching such as higher attendance and engagement, and more options for one-on-one and group discussions resulting in quicker learning. I applaud you all.

Thank you to our students (and their families), who, despite all the unknowns, continue to trust us with their education and personal/professional development. I am impressed with and grateful for the level of responsibility and sincerity with which our students, new and returning, have risen to the task of covid safety and online learning. I give thanks to the parents who trusted us to support their children academically and personally once they left their family home. Yes, we are all one ‘ohana with a common goal of supporting one another in these tough times.

A big mahalo to our donors, who continue to invest in our success. From local business people to our alumni, donors care deeply about the need to give access to as many students as possible; they know we need to do everything we can to give all qualified students access to the funds they need to attend the university. Behind every scholarship is an individual, foundation, or company with a connection to UH Hilo and a desire to help our students as an investment in the future of our island and state. Thank you all for your generosity.

I want to give additional thanks to our alumni, not just for the donations that help us achieve our goals in education, research, and community service, but for being out there thriving with productive lives and career paths. Our appreciation runs deep for all you give to our island, our state, and region. And to those of you far away, we know you are spreading the aloha spirit, the UH Hilo spirit, everywhere you go. Alumni, from famous to under-the-radar, are inspiring our current students to push through any challenges to complete and receive their degree. I mua!

Before closing, I’d like to add a debt of gratitude to our fellow schools and agencies without which we would not be able to meet our own goals. Hawai‘i Community College continues to partner with us in providing higher education for our island. Our other community college partners and friends throughout the state work with us closely toward the economic health and wellbeing of our island. The Department of Education and Kamehameha Schools both have ongoing partnerships with us, laying the strong educational foundation for the students who enroll in our programs. And I send a special thank you to the people at Vibrant Hawai‘i for pulling together all the threads of our communities into a cohesive vision for the future of Hawai‘i Island.

In closing, let me say that in our placed-based culture of Hawai‘i Island, there can be no more fundamental expression of gratitude than for our surrounding community and the ‘āina itself in which we all thrive. UH Hilo quite literally would not exist without our culturally diverse, strong, resilient, and supportive community that’s nestled into and flourishing in one of the most geographically diverse places on the planet. I feel enormous gratitude for this amazing place, the people and the ‘āina.

Thank you all for your hard work in making UH Hilo an excellent university ready to meet our students’ needs in these challenging times.


Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Oct. 2020: The mana‘o and expertise of UH Hilo faculty enrich our island home

For faculty at UH Hilo, this island is not just a place to work, but also their home, which brings with it the responsibility of making a positive contribution to our natural and cultural environments.

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

I have written in previous columns about the primary mission at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo to educate our students and graduate responsible citizens, lifelong learners, and productive employees. I’ve also recognized that our university ‘ohana contributes greatly to the civic and social fabric of our community, with many students, faculty and staff lending their mana‘o and expertise to any number of issues including public health, K-12 education, economic stability, natural disasters, climate change, environmental conservation, sustainable agriculture and more.

This month I would like to share some of the fantastic work of our faculty in community engagement, leading locally based projects of benefit to the people, culture, and island, and conducting research of importance to the community and environment.

Let me give you a few examples of the work.

Natural Sciences

Research on hybrid forest ecosystems conducted by Professor of Biology Becky Ostertag and colleagues at the county and federal levels is directly behind the creation of a forest restoration bill recently signed into law by the mayor. Bill 178 is an amendment to the current Hawaiʻi County Property Tax Code that creates two additional native forest dedications including a functional forest and a successional forest land-use dedication. The changes will allow private landowners to receive reduced property tax rates for native forest restoration on Hawaiʻi Island, and promote the islandwide engagement of preserving native forests.

In another project, a long-term study by UH Hilo scientists shows Hawai‘i Island forests can regenerate once cattle and pigs are fenced out. Twenty-five years ago, UH Hilo biologist Patrick Hart tagged 7,000 trees in a declining Hawai‘i Island rainforest. The recent discovery of new and thriving growth of keiki ʻōhiʻa and koa in the studied area is good news about the forests’ native trees and the threatened bird species for whom the trees provide habitat. Working with Professor Hart on the project is Thomas Ibanez who is a post-doctoral fellow from UH Hilo’s biology department, and Shea Uehana and Joshua Pang-Ching, recent alumni of UH Hilo’s graduate program in tropical conservation biology and environmental science.

In other work, faculty and their students in the ʻIke Wai Research Experience in Data Science Program studied coral health and disease through digital images and investigated the pros and cons of using new technologies versus conventional techniques. John Burns, assistant professor of marine science, whose lab was used for the analysis, says the work is a good example of advancing science in an interdisciplinary manner capturing one of the main goals of the UH Hilo Data Science program to bring together faculty and students from multiple disciplines to conduct applied research of benefit to the region.

Data Science

A half-million-dollar award from the National Science Foundation to computer scientist Travis Mandel is having a major impact on research and educational activity on Hawai‘i Island meant to grow UH Hilo’s expertise and curriculum in the field of data science. The funding is going toward investigating new artificial intelligence techniques that involve humans “in the loop” to address problems of great local importance. The project is driving increased interest in science and technology among community members and local undergraduate students. This past summer, six students participated in an innovative research program under Travis’s tutelage where they worked on developing artificial intelligence systems to better support scientists in fields such as psychology, ecology, and marine science.

Language and Culture Revitalization

This year, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, when American women won the right to vote, the USA TODAY Network named Kauanoe Kamanā one of 10 women from our state as a “Women of the Century.” Ten women in each state were named. The network noted that Kauanoe is an icon in Hawaiian language reclamation and revitalization, renowned for her deep commitment to her native language. She is a founding member and president of the Aha Pūnana Leo, the nonprofit, family-based organization committed to promoting Hawaiian language revitalization.

Making a tremendous impact on the revitalization of the Hawaiian language, Kauanoe is one of the early faculty of Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language at UH Hilo, the only Indigenous language college in the U.S. She also serves as director of Ke Kula ʻO Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu, the internationally renowned preschool-12 Hawaiian-medium laboratory school. She was the first person of Native Hawaiian ancestry to receive a doctor of philosophy in Hawaiian and indigenous language and culture revitalization from UH Hilo.

These are but a few examples of the tremendous impact our faculty are having on the community, culture, and environment. For faculty at UH Hilo, this island is not just a place to work, but also their home, which brings with it the responsibility of making a positive contribution to our natural and cultural environments. While covid is taking up almost all focus in our lives, you can bet these scholars are pushing forward in their areas of expertise, gaining and sharing knowledge that will enrich us, the environment, and the very fabric of our multi-cultured community.

I mua!

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Message from Chancellor Irwin on plans for online teaching in spring 2021

Aloha Kākou,

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

At today’s University Forum for faculty and staff, Vice Chancellor Kris Roney announced that as is the case now, the spring 2021 semester will be mostly online with a few exceptions for those courses that require face-to-face instruction such as clinical, lab, and studio courses.

The vice chancellors and I will continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 conditions. In the event that travel becomes easier, the case count stays low, or a vaccine becomes available, we may be able to incorporate safe face-to-face engagement opportunities for students on island during the spring semester.

The spring 2021 schedule, which will indicate which courses will require an in-person component, will be posted on October 24. Between now and then, we will communicate additional information as we have it.

Bonnie D. Irwin

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