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Category: Remarks, Messages, & Writings

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, June 2023: New research facility clears last hurdle, construction starts this summer

Artists rendering of two-story building with large open deck on upper level. Signage: USGS Science for a changing world, and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, Pacific Ecosystems Research Center.
Artist’s rendering of the upcoming research building on the UH Hilo campus. The facility will include two main structures and parking within a campus-like setting, and support for about 50 staff and volunteers at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and 53 staff and volunteers at the Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center. Groundbreaking is on June 28, 2023. (Courtesy rendering/USGS)
Bonnie Irwin pictured.
Bonnie D. Irwin

The U.S. Geological Survey has cleared the last hurdle to build its new research facility at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo campus. The final environmental assessment found no significant impact to the environment will be caused by construction.

The 60,000-square-foot facility will jointly house the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), the Pacific Islands Ecosystems Research Center (PIERC), and other governmental agencies. Located at UH Hilo’s University Park of Science and Technology, it will bring together, under one roof, staff from both HVO and PIERC to monitor, investigate, and assess hazards from active volcanoes and earthquakes in Hawai‘i.

This close collaboration will produce the science and technology needed to support sound management and conservation of biological resources in Hawai‘i and other Pacific island locations. This is of great importance to the safety and well-being of our island communities.

Internships, collaborative research, community partnerships

We are honored to host HVO and PIERC and excited about the benefits that this partnership will bring to our campus: internships, hands-on experiences for students, research, alumni employed by federal agencies, community partnerships, and more.

The site location on the UH Hilo campus will enhance collaborative relationships between HVO, PIERC, county government agencies, and university researchers. Our students will be able to interact with the agencies’ staff, receive hands-on experience in geological and environmental hazards and conservation, and envision careers in the earth sciences. Staff from HVO and PIERC will be able to work collaboratively with university faculty and students to strengthen academic and research partnerships.

And there will be opportunities for myriad community partnerships of benefit to all.


A groundbreaking event will be held later this month. Construction will take about two years.

The building was designed by architectural firm AHL, and Hensel Phelps is the construction contractor. All areas of the project are designed to meet federal guidelines for sustainable buildings, for example, low power consumption.

The facility will include two main structures and parking within a campus-like setting, and support for about 50 staff and volunteers at HVO and 53 staff and volunteers at PIERC.

The main building is three-stories. First floor will be occupied by HVO and their laboratories, offices, conference rooms, work areas, and a main lobby. The second floor will be occupied by PIERC, also with laboratories, offices, and work areas. The third floor of the building will have mechanical space and an open observation deck.

A warehouse and field support building will support HVO and PIERC operations and serve as a bridge between laboratory and field functions. This building will have administrative and lab support offices, a climate-controlled room for archives, field gear storage, maintenance areas, and lockers, restrooms, and showers. Also, an outdoor greenhouse.


I’m thrilled at all the ways this research facility will strengthen our mission to challenge students to reach their highest level of academic achievement by inspiring learning, discovery, and creativity, inside and outside the classroom. The close location also will enhance collaborative relationships between federal and county government agencies and our university researchers. Adding to this good news, we will have a new volcanologist joining our faculty in the fall.

With the positive report in the final environmental assessment, we are on our way to building this profoundly important facility of great benefit to our island communities

I mua!

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor Irwin announces commission of Kekuhikuhi mural honoring Edith Kanaka‘ole

Edith Kanaka‘ole Hall pictured with palms along one side.
Kamea Hadar and Kūhaʻo Zane are collaborating on a mural of the late Hawaiian icon Edith Kanaka‘ole on the building named in her honor, Edith Kanaka‘ole Hall, at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo campus. (Cooper Lund/UH Hilo Stories)

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin shared this message on May 3 to the university ‘ohana.

At left is Aunty Edith sitting with pahu. At right are her two daughters Pua and Nalani dancing. They are at Halemaumau crater in the background.
Edith Kanakaʻole at left with her daughters Pua and Nalani. (Courtesy photo/UH System News)

In chorus with the celebration of Edith Kanaka‘ole’s United States Mint quarter, Kamea Hadar and Kūhaʻo Zane, with the support of the UH Hilo Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Services, are collaborating on a mural of the late Hawaiian icon on the Edith Kanaka‘ole Hall at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo campus.

As a faculty member at both the Hawai‘i Community College and the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, Aunty Edith openly shared her deep ancestral knowledge passed down to her through her familial hula lineage. Her early contributions to the university’s Hawaiian language program and numerous community initiatives have set a foundation that continues to be built on today. It is an immense honor to share her story through this mural and have her portrait serve as a prominent feature on our campus.

Kamea Hadar pictured with scaffolding in the background.
Kamea Hadar (Courtesy photo)

Kamea Hadar is a talented and experienced muralist honored by this opportunity. He has taken art courses at the Honolulu Art Academy and University of Hawai‘i and spent periods living, studying, and creating in Paris, Madrid, and Tel Aviv. Currently residing in Honolulu, he is the Co-Lead Director of POW! WOW! Worldwide and his large-scale murals for businesses, organizations, and schools have been featured on buildings both in Hawai‘i as well as globally. Hadar was commissioned by the University of Hawai‘i to enhance several campus facilities, including the Stan Sheriff Center and the College of Education at UH Mānoa. Most recently, Hadar honored Native Hawaiian Olympic medalists Duke Kahanamoku and Carissa Moore with a large-scale mural in downtown Honolulu and completed another for the Polynesian Voyaging Society as a tribute to master navigator Papa Mau Piailug of Satawal.

Kūha‘o Zane pictured in an art gallery.
Kūha‘o Zane (UH System News)

Kūha‘o Zane, Edith Kanaka‘ole’s grandson, and Creative Director of Sig Zane Designs, will be collaborating with Hadar on the design of this mural. Weaving his father’s hand-cut art as well as the cultural narratives that drive their mission of education through design, this large expression of creativity is a celebration of his Grandmother’s achievements, impact and influence. Through the twenty years that Kūhaʻo has worked at Sig Zane Designs, he established a design studio SZKaiao which has done work for Tiffany’s & Co., Louis Vuitton, Nike and a multitude of local entities. Although each of these projects varied in brand identity and uniform design all, including mural projects like this one, are embedded in the cultural foundation passed to him generationally.

This is the third mural at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo that Kīpuka NHSC has supported. The first two were completed in 2015 on the UH Hilo residence halls and celebrate the physical features of Hilo and the mo‘olelo that accompany them. Murals such as these reflect the values of the community and help UH Hilo students to further develop connections to Hilo. UH Hilo students will continue to be an integral part of the mural process by contributing to a continuation of the mural throughout the summer.

Bonnie D. Irwin

Invitation to E Hō Mai Ka ʻIke

The Edith Kanaka‘ole Foundation,
University of Hawai‘i at Hilo,
Hawai‘i Community College,
United States Mint,
the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum,
and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
is hosting

E Hō Mai Ka ʻIke

a public event honoring

Aunty Edith Kekuhikuhipu‘uoneonāali‘iōkohala Kanaka‘ole

Saturday, May 6, 2023

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo

10:30 a.m. (Doors open at 10:00 a.m.)

Performing Arts Center

(This formal program will be live streamed)

11:30 a.m. Celebration and Exhibits of Aunty Edith’s Impact

Edith Kanaka‘ole Hall

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, May 2023: Honoring Aunty Edith

Bonnie Irwin pictured in her office.
Bonnie D. Irwin

This month there is a celebration planned to honor Kumu Hula Edith Kanaka‘ole. Save the date, Saturday, May 6, 2023, 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. at the Performing Arts Center, and then 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Edith Kanaka‘ole Hall, on the campus of University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, when the community will come together to celebrate Aunty Edith’s life and legacy.

It is a local event with co-hosts being the Kanaka‘ole ‘ohana, the Edith Kanaka‘ole Foundation, UH Hilo, and Hawai‘i Community College, but it also is sparked and supported through the national recognition of Aunty Edith by the United States Mint, the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum, and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Edith Kanaka‘ole (1913–1979) was a renowned Native Hawaiian composer and educator, teaching at both Hawai‘i Community College (1971-74) and UH Hilo (1974-79). She created curriculum and public lectures on Hawaiian language, ethnobotany, Polynesian history, genealogy, and Hawaiian chant and mythology that without a doubt helped lay the foundation for the coming decades of Hawaiian language and culture revitalization within higher education in Hawai‘i.

Edith Kanaka‘ole pictured with head lei.
Edith Kekuhikuhipu‘uoneonāali‘iōkohala Kenao Kanaka‘ole
Edith Kanaka‘ole Hall pictured, a long, 2-building complex with palms lining one side and a large lawn quad on the left side.
Edith Kanaka‘ole Hall on the UH Hilo campus. (Courtesy photo Hyungwon Jeon via UH System News)

To honor Aunty Edith’s groundbreaking contributions to the UH Hilo campus and community, the humanities building at UH Hilo, which houses subjects such as languages, English, philosophy, and kinesiology, is named in her honor, Edith Kanaka‘ole Hall. For a long time, most people referred to the building as “EKH,” a habit that many in our university community are trying to break, replacing with the respectful Kanaka‘ole Hall or even the simple Kanaka‘ole, rather than reducing a kumu’s honor to an acronym.

This attention to learning and practicing respect toward not only kumu among us today but also toward those who came before—those who blazed a clear path toward Hawaiian language and culture revitalization within the too often stodgy and stubborn world of academia—is part of who we are at UH Hilo. We are a Native Hawaiian grounded institution working every day to revitalize the language and the culture, weaving Native Hawaiian protocols, wisdom, ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, and cultural awareness into all life on campus.

It was an honor to be included in the Merrie Monarch parade, walking alongside students, educators, and cultural practitioners from UH Hilo’s Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, our laboratory public charter school Ke Kula ʻO Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu Iki, and the non-profit Aha Pūnana Leo. Experiences like that, of being immersed in a sea of dedicated and unwavering scholars and educators whose work on Hawaiian language and cultural revitalization is an inspiration to dying cultures around the world, is humbling to the core. An experience like that fills me with the energy to focus on the work ahead, doing everything I can to help keep UH Hilo blazing up that path toward the future Aunty Edith envisioned for Native Hawaiians.

Large group walking in parade on Hilo street, one person is pulling a green wagon, most people have on red shirts and hats, city buildings are in the background.
It was an honor to be included in the Merrie Monarch parade, walking alongside students, educators, and cultural practitioners from UH Hilo’s Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, our laboratory public charter school Ke Kula ʻO Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu Iki, and the non-profit Aha Pūnana Leo. (April 15, 2023)

In March, a commemorative quarter honoring Edith Kanaka‘ole was released into circulation by the United States Mint, one of five American women to be minted on new quarters as part of the 2023 honorees for the American Women Quarters™ Program. In addition, last month, Aunty Edith was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the UH Board of Regents in recognition of her contributions toward the preservation and revitalization of the Hawaiian language and culture.

I invite you to come celebrate these milestones of Aunty Edith’s honorable and inspirational legacy at the May 6 events.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, April 2023: Bringing the world to Hilo

Bonnie D. Irwin pictured.
Bonnie D. Irwin

We often talk about how University of Hawai‘i at Hilo brings the world to Hilo through student recruitment. We are indeed proud of our international students, and February 24th saw the return of International Nights at the UH Hilo Performing Arts Center. In front of a packed house, our international students and community members performed traditional and modern dances. The crowd was enthusiastic and the students were joyful. It was a wonderful expression of our cultural diversity on campus.

UH Hilo also brings the world to our community through academic events.

National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs

In February, more than 50 representatives from the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs convened at UH Hilo’s Ka Haka ‘Ula o Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language and the university’s ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, the world’s only Indigenous bilingual science center. The coalition’s mission is to advocate for the use of Native American languages as the medium of instruction in community-led schools and programs across the United States.

The summit at UH Hilo drew educators from 14 U.S. states and Guam (representing 25 languages) and federal officials from the Office of Indian Education to discuss the achievements and challenges of Native American language medium programs. UH Hilo is the perfect location for this type of collaborative effort, where our own model Indigenous programs inspire many others in their own language revitalization work.

Hawaiʻi International Conference on English Language and Literature Studies

March 10-11, we hosted the Second Hawaiʻi International Conference on English Language and Literature Studies. Scholars from across the United States and the world visited our campus and presented their scholarship on research and teaching in English language and literature.

The meeting was sponsored by our English department in partnership with San Pedro College, Holy Cross of Davao College (Davao City, Philippines), and Hawai‘i Association of Filipino Educators. Because of cultural and linguistic diversity, Hilo is the ideal setting for such a conference, and the meeting gave our faculty and students exposure to new ideas in their field. It also allows us to highlight some of the great work our faculty are doing around the teaching of language and literature.

International Conference on Multidisciplinary Filipino Studies

Later in the year, UH Hilo will host the 5th International Conference on Multidisciplinary Filipino Studies. This conference will expand our scope beyond language and literature to also include agriculture, area studies, business, education, engineering, law,politics, government, and tourism, among other subjects.

Attendees will have opportunity to not only enhance their knowledge of their own fields but also to see how their work intersects with other fields. The Filipino studies program at UH Hilo has envisioned for this conference the coming together of students, teachers, scholars, academic, administrators, and others. As one in four residents of our island has some Filipino ancestry, this conference, too, is an appropriate meeting for us to host, and we are happy to welcome guests from the Philippines to our campus and community.

MOU with Eastern Samar State University

Our relationship with the Philippines has evolved over the years.

In early March we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Eastern Samar State University in the Philippines intended to grow cooperation between the two universities through virtual classroom collaboration and faculty research. Located in the Eastern Samar province in a rural area next to beaches and rain forest, Eastern Samar State University is noted for strong agriculture, forestry, environmental science, tourism, and teacher training programs.

The MOU is an example of Collaborative Online International Learning or COIL, a movement to increase virtual classroom interaction between students and faculty of partner universities in different countries. COIL allows us to connect even when we cannot travel, and was truly an asset during the pandemic.

The world comes to UH Hilo

The world comes to UH Hilo through these events, both in-person and online, bringing a rich diversity of culture, language and ideas enabling us to grow and thrive as a university with excellent learning opportuities for our students. These opportunities will inspire some of our students to study abroad. For others, this taste of the world will inspire them to think about the global implications of what we do right here at home.

It is often said that geographically we are the most isolated place in the world, but we are also in the center of it all and, as we welcome guests to our island home, we have much to share.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Feb. 2023: Every person on campus plays a role in the success of our students

Bonnie Irwin pictured.
Bonnie D. Irwin

On February 10, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo held a student success summit entitled, “Their Journey is Our Success.” Attended by over 50 people, the vast majority in person, we explored how we define student success on our campus; what the journey of a typical student looks like and potential barriers they might face along the way, and we dove into some of the data that we have about student grades, persistence, completion. The participants had opportunity to discuss issues in small groups, and we vowed to do more such sessions in the future.

Even on a campus as small as UH Hilo, faculty and staff can become siloed in their various units, but we know that students do not perceive those divisions. One of the great takeaways from the event was that we need to bring people together across departments much more often, and doing so in person seems to be a better way to cross those boundaries than the ubiquitous Zoom meetings.

The working definition of student success at UH Hilo that is posted on our website begins like this: “Successful UH Hilo students earn their intended degrees from our campus or elsewhere within 150% of normal time and find employment or continue their students within one year of graduation.” Within 150% means that students graduate within six years, which is one of the standards that we are held to.

Of course, some students take longer and many take a shorter time to finish degrees. But research shows that for many students, the longer the degree takes, the less likely they are to finish, so we urge them to take 15 credits per semester if they can. The average “unit load” at UH Hilo is just over 14, so weʻre in good shape there.

One might think it odd that our definition of student success allows for students to graduate elsewhere, but we find that many students who start at UH Hilo discover that their goals change, and they might decide that what they need lies elsewhere. Engineering is an example of that. Because UH Hilo does not currently have an engineering degree, we find that students who wish to become engineers transfer to UH Mānoa or to a university on the continent. If we have prepared them well for that journey, that is a win for us and the student.

Other students may find that once they start a four-year degree, their heartʻs desire is actually a career that might be better served by one of the UH community colleges. That is okay, too, and we might very well get that student back later in life when their goals change again. Of course, our preference is that the students we recruit are the ones who wish to be here for the programs we offer at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

At our event, we discussed how every person on campus plays a role in the success of our students. Students learn better in comfortable spaces that are designed for learning. We use the RIM (renovate, improve, modernize) money we get from the state to update our facilities, make sure the classrooms are climate controlled, and create spaces that students want to be in. Thus our facilities, budget, and building and grounds staff play an important role in student success, even if they rarely interact directly with students.

Because students do not necessarily understand the silos we create, it is important that we put students first in all our interactions with them. Many of us remember being shuffled from office to office when we were students, and our aim at UH Hilo is to not perpetuate that tradition. The rule in my office is that if we are not the office that can address a studentʻs problem, we will be their next-to-last stop. We will figure out where they need to go, and call over to that other office and let them know that we are sending a student their way.

Of course, teaching and learning is at the center of what we do, and our faculty do it well, but the rest of us also have a key role to play in our studentsʻ journeys.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin
Chancellor, UH Hilo

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