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Category: Remarks, Messages, & Writings

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Aug. 2019: Good partners are key to success

Last month I spent several days meeting with our state legislators, asking them about current issues in the community and pondering how the university might help address them.

By Bonnie D. Irwin

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

Our primary mission at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is to educate our students and graduate responsible citizens, lifelong learners, and productive employees. Beyond that, we also have talented staff and faculty who contribute greatly to the civic and social fabric of our community, and who can lend their expertise to any number of issues including public health, K-12 education, economic stability, natural disasters, climate change, environmental conservation, sustainable agriculture and more.

Last month I spent several days meeting with our state legislators, asking them about current issues in the community and pondering how the university might help address them.

And I heard about a lot of needs.

Transportation and accessible housing are island-wide concerns, as is health care, including mental health services. General economic development in the form of small businesses, co-ops, and new industries also is of interest.

And while the university alone cannot solve all the issues we face in the state, we can form partnerships around some of the biggest, most urgent needs, and I will be spending the coming weeks learning more about UH Hilo’s capacity to contribute.

I am just learning about our faculty and their areas of applied research, and some of the projects I have seen in this first month have impressed me greatly. Geographer Ryan Perroy is using drones and remote sensing devices to detect Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death; his research just won a prestigious $70k prize for innovative techniques. Infectious disease scientist Susan Jarvi is researching rat lungworm in East Hawai‘i and how we might combat its spread. Faculty and staff at Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language are revitalizing Hawaiian language and culture, providing a shining example of success to other indigenous communities throughout the world.

These projects and the work done by many others from our campus community have demonstrated to me that our faculty and staff have much to offer. And they are lifting up the next generation through our many undergraduate research experiences that give students the opportunity to apply what they are learning in class to real world needs.

I am also excited to learn about Vibrant Hawai‘i, a collective impact movement, from Rachel Solemsaas, chancellor at Hawai‘i Community College. Vibrant Hawai‘i is just taking hold here to address the hardships experienced by breadwinners and families with limited liquid assets such as cash or a savings account. These households are especially vulnerable when faced with emergencies such as a costly auto repair, a natural disaster, or health issues. I have seen the power of collective impact partnerships in California, and I am eager to find out how UH Hilo might engage in this important work to address the needs of our most disadvantaged citizens.

I am also proud to learn that UH Hilo is a designated participant in Blue Zones Hawai‘i, encouraging our campus community to e ola pono. Blue Zones is a nationwide initiative taking place in several states to promote healthy living and long lives. The Blue Zones concept of healthy living is modeled on the best practices of places in the world where people live longer by reaching the age of 100 while enjoying a high quality of life. A number of businesses and organizations are working together in Hilo to create a Blue Zones community by adopting healthy best practices. This collaborative project promotes healthy minds and healthy bodies, and serves as a model for communities throughout the country to follow.

None of these accomplishments at our university is possible without the support of the community. In my July column, I wrote about the campus now working on a collaborative plan to achieve our highest of aspirations in helping the island with its needs—economic, educational, and cultural—while also protecting the ‘āina through sustainable activities. I look forward to learning more about our campus and our surrounding community, and working toward strengthening UH Hilo’s contributions to our island and state’s most urgent needs.

Thank you all for your support.


Bonnie Irwin


Photo of UH Hilo University Classroom Building by @bdirwin Instagram.

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Chancellor’s Message regarding Maunakea

Dear UH Hilo ‘Ohana,

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

Since I began at UH Hilo almost three weeks ago, the sense of ‘ohana on our campus has been obvious and one of the reasons I came to UH Hilo is because of this kind, caring atmosphere among ourselves and between faculty/staff and students. Our community has weathered numerous challenges over the years, one of the most recent being last year’s eruption that is still impacting members of our campus ‘ohana, and we continue to pull together and support one another despite our hardships and differences. This is a testament to the care and concern we have for each other.

Today, we face a divisive issue in our community with what is happening on Maunakea. Whether you or members in your families and our community have strong opinions about TMT and Maunakea, and knowing that there is an entire spectrum of ideas, beliefs, and emotions, I encourage us all to promote our campus as a safe space where individuals of our campus ‘ohana are free to learn from one another respectfully and safely, regardless of their views about Maunakea, or any issue, that provides all of us with an opportunity for deeper understanding and respect for difference. I, along with the rest of senior leadership at UH Hilo, believe this is the value of our university and we will continue to support free expression and ask that we all commit to maintaining an environment of respect on our campus. I also ask that each of us remember our role as educators and our shared mission to support our students and their educational journeys while at UH Hilo with the University of Hawai‘i Policy of Free Expression in mind:

The University of Hawai‘i is committed to the free and open exchange of ideas and affirms the rights of members of the university community to engage in speech and other expressive activity guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and by Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution of the State of Hawai‘i. These activities may be conducted at such times and places and in such a manner to assure the orderly conduct and least interference with the University responsibilities as a public institution for higher education and scholarly inquiry.

In addition to ensuring people’s right to free expression and assembly, we also have a collective responsibility to our community and constituents to maintain daily operations, even if some of us may be experiencing conflict with decisions surrounding Maunakea. I encourage engaging in a dialogue with your supervisors should you experience difficulties in fulfilling daily responsibilities, in light of this issue. Employees also have access to the University of Hawai‘i Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which offers counseling support for those facing crises and problems that affect work performance. For more information about the EAP, you may go to the WorkLife Hawaii website or call (808) 543 8445 or toll free at (800) 944-3571. I encourage anyone who wishes to do so to reach out to those services.

I have been talking to campus leadership about how we might best prepare to support our students, regardless of what side of the issue they (or we) may be on. Vice Chancellor Farrah-Marie Gomes’s message to the campus last month contained valuable information about support services for students. As a reminder, if you encounter a UH Hilo student in need of support, you may refer them to Counseling Services, to talk with counseling professionals for free. To make a referral, please visit the Counseling Services website, call 932-7465, or email

As challenging as it may be right now, I ask that you remember the good work we do, the students we serve, and the future which we build together. There are many of you whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting yet and I look forward to doing so over the coming weeks and months as we continue to build together a university and community that will serve Hawai‘i well into the future.



Top photo: View of Maunakea from the UH Hilo campus, Feb. 2019. By Raiatea Arcuri.

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Message from the Chancellor: Mahalo for your warm welcome

I look forward to the follow up conversations and actions we will share.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

As I finish my first week as chancellor here at UH Hilo, I have been energized by the warm welcome I have received, and the dedication of our staff and faculty to the success of our students and our institution. I am grateful that so many of you were able to attend the kīpaepae for Marcia and me. It certainly was an experience I will never forget. My mother watched it on live stream, too!

I have been spending my first few days in meetings, as this is what chancellors seem to do more than anything else, but I have also been doing a lot of reading—budgets, reports, evaluations, policies, etc. Perhaps the most important document I have been reading is the Pre-planning Evidence Report for a Future UH Hilo Strategic Plan. Mahalo to everyone who participated in the monthly questions, focus groups and other communications with Kathleen over the last few months. The document is a great portrait of our values, our concerns, and our collective hopes and dreams for the future. I encourage you to read all or part of it as you have time in the coming weeks. I look forward to the follow up conversations and actions we will share.

In fall, we will continue building the future of this great university together.

Best wishes,


Header photo: University Classroom Building, July 4, 2019, via @bonnieirwin on Twitter.

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Chancellor Bonnie Irwin’s first monthly column, July 2019: UH Hilo as a gateway for upward mobility

It is the university’s responsibility to take the lead in stewardship of regional economics, education, and improving the quality of life for all our island citizens and their communities.

By Bonnie D. Irwin

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

As I begin my tenure as chancellor at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, I find a campus community hard at work preparing to develop a new strategic plan. Through a series of over 40 discussions that began last fall with faculty, staff, students and the local community, information is being gleaned and groundwork laid to produce a collaborative plan to achieve the highest of aspirations.

My favorite definition of leadership is that it is a process of moving an organization from its current reality to its aspirations. My first task at UH Hilo is to listen and learn what the campus and community aspirations are and then focus our energy toward achieving them, all the while making sure we are ambitious enough in those aspirations to really help the island with its needs—economic, educational, and cultural—while also protecting the ‘āina through sustainable activities.

I take this responsibility to heart. I strongly believe in the concept of regional stewardship for comprehensive universities: i.e., that a primary mission of our campus is to lift up the region, in this case Hawai‘i Island. One of the reasons I wanted to come to UH Hilo is because of our unique cultural emphasis in programs and curriculum, notably the acclaimed work being done to revitalize Native Hawaiian language and culture for the benefit of not only Hawai‘i’s indigenous people but also everyone in the state. The future of our university and our local community are inextricably linked.

Let me share some thoughts about where my attention is already focused.

I envision UH Hilo as a gateway for upward mobility. This means educating and preparing our students for meaningful employment that not only brings them a high quality of life but also lifts up their families and communities. One effective way to prepare students for important regional work is to increase student engagement in applied learning and independent research for benefit of the community and the environment; UH Hilo already excels at this in several fields and I would like to explore ways to open up this opportunity to even more students.

Traditionally we think of higher education as preparing young women and men for their future, but national trends are moving toward developing a new higher education model that also meets the needs of non-traditional students returning to finish a degree. This is a challenge facing universities throughout the country and if we want to stay current, we will need to adapt to this emerging trend not only to properly serve our region but also to thrive as an institution of higher education.

Woven into advancing the university to meet the needs of a modern student population is the challenge to improve retention and graduation rates. I support wholeheartedly the current ongoing efforts at UH Hilo to develop best practices to enable students to pursue their aspirations with purpose and confidence through to graduation and beyond, whether the student wishes to further her or his education or launch a meaningful career. I look forward to working with faculty and student affairs professionals to develop and strengthen innovative and effective ways to meet this challenge.

I am pleased to see UH Hilo placing a high importance on practicing, teaching, and researching sustainability and protecting the ‘āina, both on campus and in our island environment. Every student has a role to play—now and in the future—to help heal the emerging environmental crises facing our island, state, and Pacific region, and the university community and our graduates should be leaders and role models in this field.

We cannot achieve our aspirations alone. Building on partnerships with the local community, government agencies, and non-profit organizations, along with strengthening UH Hilo’s relationship with Hawai‘i Community College and partnering more with the Pālamanui campus, are crucial to all our success.

It is the university’s responsibility to take the lead in stewardship of regional economics, education, and improving the quality of life for all our island citizens and their communities. I start my new position as a chancellor ready to listen, learn, and collaborate as we prepare a new strategic plan for the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

I mua!

Bonnie Irwin


Photo at top by Raiatea Arcuri: UH Hilo main entrance at West Kāwili Street.

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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.

Marcia Sakai
Marcia Sakai

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

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