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Category: Remarks, Messages, & Writings

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Jan. 2022: Partnerships strengthen learning opportunities

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

At the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, we have rightly celebrated our number one ranking for diversity among national universities from U.S. News & World Report. And though we are not in the business of chasing rankings, we do look forward to learning about this particular benchmark every year.

There is another ranking, however, that we have not touted this year that is also of note: among nearly 400 “national universities,” UH Hilo ranks 30th in social mobility. The way U.S. News & World Report measures this is by looking at how successful universities are “at advancing social mobility by enrolling and graduating large proportions of disadvantaged students awarded with Pell Grants. The vast majority of these federal grants are awarded to students whose adjusted gross family incomes are under $50,000.”

To be in the top eight percent of national universities in providing opportunity is truly something for us to be proud of, and it demonstrates the mission of UH Hilo to serve historically underserved students, both in terms of race and ethnicity and income.

A university education opens doors to opportunity and greater prosperity, and the way that UH Hilo often does this is through partnerships with government groups and private businesses in our island community, demonstrating that when we work together, students thrive and graduates succeed.

One of the most important areas where we do this kind of collaborative work is in experiential learning, meaning hands-on activities that are often delivered through internships conducted off campus in our island environment and communities. This means that hands-on learning is embedded not only in our campus labs and studios, but also on our farm laboratory in Pana‘ewa and in our communities throughout the island, where our students learn how to apply the theory and skills they acquire in class.

Through internships and clinical experiences students get to test-drive their chosen careers. At the same time, the community benefits by having fresh ideas and enthusiasm in their workplaces.

Experiential learning benefits island communities

A great example of this kind of learning experience is the research done by UH Hilo geography professor Ryan Perroy, which was showcased recently at the United Nations’ global Climate Change Conference (COP26). This project has generated a comprehensive inventory for Hawaiʻi Island’s 428 kilometers of coastline.

Described at COP26 as a model approach to climate change adaptation challenges, Prof. Perroy’s research is being conducted as a local, community-based solution through a collaboration between UH Hilo and the County of Hawai‘i.

The research team includes UH Hilo students Aloha Kapono, Erica Ta, and Hannah Hartmann. Geospatial research analysts Nai‘a Odachi and Eszter Collier, a 2019 graduate of the UH Hilo master’s program in tropical conservation biology and environmental science, are also part of the team.

The investigation is based on previous work done by Rose Hart, also a graduate of the master’s program who became an expert in using unmanned aerial systems to map shorelines when she was a graduate student. Rose won an award in 2017 for that collaborative work on estimating coastal erosion rates for three stretches of Hawaiʻi Island coastline and comparing them to projected sea-level rise rates.

This kind of investigation into coastal erosion will deliver science-based coastal change estimates that will inform the County of Hawai‘i as they look to update coastal setback policies to be more place-based and adaptive through future climate change impacts. All coastline communities will benefit from this research, and because our students are immersed in this work as part of their studies, they graduate fully prepared to help conduct the necessary science needed to understand future impacts of climate change.

When I am out and about in the community, I am often asked what folks can do to help our students, and internships always top that list.

Of the many high-impact practices identified by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, internships often top the list for the most valuable to students. Not only do they help solidify knowledge through the application of theory and skill in real-world settings, they teach responsibility and help students form professional networks, both locally and nationally and internationally.

Strengthening and supporting internships as well as building out infrastructure to support these experiences is a significant item on our strategic plan, and we look forward to continued growth in this area, and even more opportunity for our students to thrive and make the best use of their education in intern experiences and careers.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year! Stay safe and be well.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Message from the Chancellor: UH Hilo Changes to COVID-19 Related Restrictions

Aloha UH Hilo Students, Faculty, and Staff,

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

Yesterday President Lassner issued an announcement regarding the changes to COVID-19-related restrictions across the State and County and the impacts to our operations taking effect December 1, 2021. For Hawai‘i County, these include increases to social gathering limitations (25 persons for indoor, 100 persons for outdoor) and increasing capacities at food service locations.

The updated State and County orders/rules defer to the CDC guidance for safety, hygiene, and physical distancing. Per the CDC guidance for Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) that are fully-vaccinated, there can be a return to full capacity for in-person learning. Masks must continue to be properly worn while indoors.

We are taking a moderate approach in returning to “normal,” and do so with you in mind. This approach may be different from other campuses, and that is because we are a different institution. We have different resources and needs than Oʻahu. What works on Oʻahu does not necessarily work here, and we feel this approach to reopening and returning to “normal” is the best fit for our community.

At UH Hilo, we are beginning the transition to full capacity in-person learning. For Spring 2022, while we are keeping the 3-foot distance capacities in classrooms, faculty may continue to work with their respective Chairs and Deans to increase in-person class presence or other adjustments informed by enrollment patterns before January. The Spring 2022 transition is with the expectation that schedules for Fall 2022 are developed with full capacity classrooms and learning environments in mind. Intentional, well-designed distance learning options will continue to be a vital component of our offerings as we have seen in the last 20 months that DL meets the needs of a segment of our student population.

Part of the transition includes the return to a form of in-person Commencement on December 18, 2021. We hope that through our continued efforts as a campus and community, that we can continue to provide more events and opportunities for everyone. This takes a campus effort: being safe, following our campus rules and guidelines, and remembering that your individual actions impact a host of individuals. With the emerging new Omicron variant, the selflessness of our actions and behaviors continues to be important.

Mahalo,

Bonnie D. Irwin
Chancellor

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Dec. 2021: Silver linings

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo was recently invited to participate in the Transformation Accelerator Cohort, an initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) which oversees the university’s accreditation. The program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is designed to help institutions eliminate race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of student success.

We are excited to be part of this initiative because it will allow UH Hilo to improve the way we serve students and it will help us continue to lift up the region through providing educational opportunities for a diversity of students. The project aligns well with our strategic plan’s first goal, that of strengthening our commitment to our haumana, our students, and we hope it will enable us to move forward on our other strategic goals as well.

One of the things that AASCU has asked us to reflect upon are silver linings, those bright spots amid the dark days of the pandemic. What have we learned that can sustain us as we move forward? It is easy to focus on the negative when there is more than enough of that to go around—illness, isolation, exhaustion—yet as we emerge from the pandemic, we do so with a renewed sense of purpose, both at UH Hilo and across the UH System.

We are looking at developing programs to meet the post-pandemic needs of our island and our state; these programs have the potential to help UH Hilo increase enrollment while at the same time serving local needs for a trained workforce to see us into the future: programs in elementary education and data science are moving ahead and other programs are looking at ways to update their curriculum.

Another silver lining has been the need to exercise our creativity in problem solving. An example of this is the very quick change to online teaching that was required of our faculty and students in the spring of 2020. Though it was stressful and challenging on many levels, the successful switch opened up a world of possibilities about what we can do online, including expanding access to courses and programs.

Some professors say online teaching technology has helped to improve connections between students and expanded discussions. Online classes offer new ways to build a strong sense of community among peers, not just locally but also with international students and faculty. Examples of this are business students taking online finance classes with classmates located in Asia and North America. Students who are learning how to teach English as a second language are working with students in Oman and the Philippines.

The pandemic has also forced us to focus on our priorities: our students and our community, of course, but also ourselves. This importance of self-care reflects our third goal in the strategic plan, which focuses on strengthening our commitment to kākou, literally meaning “we,” which includes the self. The global impact of covid reminds us that people are our most precious resource, and that our attention must focus on not just our students but also ourselves, our family, and our personal networks.

Staff and faculty who have stepped up and done amazing things without a lot of resources have learned the value of self-care, not only because of the threat of illness but also because of the need for rest and reflection. Being part of our campus ‘ohana reminds us that our self-care is not just important, but essential to continuing to serve our students and our community.

I look forward to working with the Transformation Accelerator Cohort as we strengthen our commitment to students and continue moving forward through the pandemic and beyond.

I wish you all the very best this holiday season. Stay safe and be well.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Nov. 2021: Transforming students, campus, and local community through service

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo has thrived by cultivating relationships with the local community. We serve our community through giving access to higher education, but also through the support we give community projects in our research, volunteerism, and service projects.

UH Hilo is a placed-based university, meaning the importance of place is foremost in our strategic planning efforts now underway. Equally important to us are the relationships we build, which are at the core of everything in education; the most effective teachers are those who can establish rapport and meaningful relationships with students.

Similarly, the most successful universities are arguably those that have made themselves a part of the community in which they are located. I am grateful for UH Hilo staff and faculty who have served our community by serving on boards, giving guest lectures, or even rolling up their sleeves and pitching in on community projects.

One project that really brings place and people together in a powerful way is the Bonner Leadership Program.

Graphic with mortarboard: The Bonner Program, Access to Education, Opportunity to Serve

Launched through the UH Hilo Center for Community Engagement in collaboration with the Campus Center, the program is funded by a Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) grant and supported by the Bonner Foundation, a national organization with a mission to transform students, communities, and campuses through service.

The program moves students beyond volunteerism and engages them in four years of leadership training, basic service to a variety of community organizations, and gradually builds students’ self-awareness and skills to commit to a multi-year partnership with an organization they believe in.

Julie Mowrer
Julie Mowrer

Julie Mowrer, acting director of the Center for Community Engagement and head of the project, says local community organizations want to connect and support students, but it can take a significant amount of time to really mentor someone successfully.

This is where the support from the Bonner Foundation comes in. By building students’ skills in a Bonner cohort and creating multi-year relationships with organizations, the students have the time and support needed to contribute in meaningful ways.

We know this type of connection with others is one of the most important aspects of student success, especially during the pandemic when in-person interaction has been severely limited. The Bonner Program gives students a safe way to interact with members of our community while receiving excellent leadership training and the opportunity to use skills learned in their major.

On the community side, these student leaders can help our local organizations increase capacity and reach.

Once connected to an organization, Bonner students are encouraged to work with that organization to dig into the root causes of social or environmental issues, whether they revolve around policy, infrastructure, or other various influences. Bonner Leaders are challenged to do research to learn more and design capstone projects with guidance from a team of faculty, staff, and community mentors.

When the students finish their degrees, they will be prepared not only with skills they need to be successful, but also the values they need to make a difference.

Mahalo to all the faculty, staff, and members of the local community who are supporting our Bonner students in this important project. By working together, we can give our students this remarkable opportunity to build relationships and do good work that will benefit not only themselves, but also our local community for years to come.

Aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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