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UH Hilo Chancellor's Blog Posts

Holiday Greetings from the Chancellor

Na ka maluhia a me ka ‘oli‘oli o nēia kau e hō‘olu‘olu a ho‘opūmehana iā kākou a pau.

May the peace and joy of this season bring comfort and warmth to us all.


Bonnie D. Irwin

A screenshot of a cell phone


Photo by Bonnie D. Irwin: Koki‘o ‘ula‘ula, a native species of hibiscus in Hawai‘i. This bloom was photographed in the award winning Native Garden at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i, an educational outreach center on the campus of UH Hilo. The center’s garden is a living exhibit of endemic, indigenous, and Polynesian introduced plants often called “canoe plants.”  

Message: Composed by Lei Kapono, Interim Executive Assistant to the Chancellor, and Larry Kimura, Associate Professor of Hawaiian Language and Hawaiian Studies.

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Full text of Chancellor Irwin’s keynote address at UH Hilo 2019 Fall Commencement

Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin was keynote speaker at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo 2019 Fall Commencement held Dec. 21. Here is a transcript of her remarks.

Whenever I see a bunch of people dressed in academic regalia, I feel that someone should say something weighty in Latin. Unfortunately, I could not really find a Latin quotation that I liked well enough, but I did find some words by the French playwright Moliere that I thought might be appropriate: “Once you have a cap and gown all you need to do is, open your mouth. Whatever nonsense you talk becomes wisdom.”

I hope my remarks today will be more than nonsense, but I also hope that by wearing my cap and gown, I can communicate two things to you. First, I work at a university, and I take that work seriously indeed because it is a great privilege to come to work every day at a place where I can make a contribution to your success. Second, even though I have been a professor and a dean and a provost and now a chancellor, I started exactly where you are now. I understand many of the anxieties, expectations, and dreams that you have, and I and all the faculty and staff are so very proud of you, proud of what you have accomplished, and confident that you can and will go out and do great things in the world as responsible citizens, ethical human beings, and skilled professionals.

Commencement speeches, with rare exceptions, are meant to be inspiring or entertaining. All I remember about the one I heard nearly 40 years ago is that I thought it was funny at the time. I don’t remember what the speaker said, why I thought it was funny, or whether or not it was relevant to my life.

What I do remember are strange moments in my college career. I remember the 8 AM 18th century Spanish literature final where my professor brought Oreo cookies to class, a rare occurrence in those days. He meant the cookies to be a treat, but he did not think to open the package ahead of time, so he tried to open the crinkly wrapper with his keys without making any sound. He failed. Throughout the three-hour exam, he would periodically get up with the tray of Oreos, and walking up and down the aisles of the classroom, offering us cookies. It seemed rude not to take one, even though we did not have the all-important milk to dunk those cookies in!

If that is the kind of thing I remember, what does it say about my education? With all due respect to my Spanish professors, I did not find 18th century Spanish literature very engaging, but I remember a professor who cared about us. Education is not always measured by what you learn, but by what you are able to do with that knowledge. I never had to teach 18th century literature, but I always tried to make my students know I cared, whether that was through spending time with them in my office or bringing treats to the final exam.

If we at UH Hilo have been truly successful, you may not remember what we have taught you, but you will be able to acquire knowledge when you need it, and you will want to seek knowledge whether you need it or not. If we have been successful, you know how to think for yourselves. If we’ve been successful, you know how to communicate what you think. If we have been successful, you may not remember us, but you will treat other people with respect and generosity and aloha and leave every relationship, especially your professional ones, having contributed more than you’ve expected to gain. In the end the particulars don’t matter because your memory of them will fade away as new experiences, people, and places take the place of those that seem so important to you now.

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Fall 2019 End-of-Year Message to UH Hilo ‘Ohana from Chancellor Irwin

We have a wonderful ‘ohana here who cares deeply about students and about bettering the community in which we live. Thanks to each of you for your many contributions to our mission over the last several months.

Aloha UH Hilo ‘Ohana,

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

When I first arrived at UH Hilo this summer, I came full of hope for the future of our campus, our students, and our community, and I am happy to say that my many meetings with people both on and off campus have only strengthened that hope and made me even more optimistic. We have a wonderful ‘ohana here who cares deeply about students and about bettering the community in which we live. Thanks to each of you for your many contributions to our mission over the last several months.

As we near the end of the year, and our attention begins to turn to commencement and the holidays, I’d like to share with you just a few of my favorite highpoints of this semester.


A group of people standing in front of the new red pharmacy building.
Attendees of the Grand Opening for the new UH Hilo College of Pharmacy building gather for blessing and then tours of the facilities, Dec. 4, 2019. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri.

Construction is finished on the new building for the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy! It took many people working together for many years to bring this beautiful building to fruition. The modern facilities beckon students to come here to study in a unique rural environment with an incredibly supportive community. Seeing the pride in the faces of our pharmacy students at the grand opening was such a joy. I have all confidence they will be top performers in their field, helping make the world a better place.

Nursing cohort in white coats pose for photo.
Members of the first cohort of doctor of nursing students at their commencement. Courtesy photo.

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education reaccredited our Doctor of Nursing Practice program through 2029, the maximum 10-year term. The program currently has 28 students, and has graduated 39 students since 2015. The DNP is a terminal degree in nursing and provides training to become a family nurse practitioner. There also is a leadership track. The doctoral level education focuses on primary care, cultural diversity, health disparities, health promotion, and disease prevention in rural communities to raise the quality of health for the people of our island and state.

A group of women soccer players posing for a picture
The Vulcan 2018-2019 women’s soccer team had seven Division II Athletics Directors Association Academic Achievement Award recipients. Courtesy photo from Athletics Dept.

Thirty-one UH Hilo student-athletes received Division II Academic Achievement Awards. The honorees for 2018-2019 are three more than the previous year. The program recognizes the academic accomplishments of Division II student-athletes; our student-athletes’ grade point averages are higher than they have ever been. This is quite an accomplishment! Awardees have a grade point average of 3.5 or higher, attended school a minimum of four semesters, and been an active team member during this past academic year. Congratulations to all!

Campus Life

Overhead view of a large group of people posing for the camera.
UH Hilo’s fall 2018 freshman class. Courtesy photo from University Relations.

We started the fall semester with U.S. News and World Report ranking UH Hilo as most ethnically diverse campus among national universities. In the 2020 report of college rankings, UH Hilo received a diversity index of 77 percent. We are proud to serve such a diverse group of students—the assets they bring to UH Hilo enrich our community and help us provide an inclusive, high-quality education for all our students.

A person sitting at a table in front of a window
Two students at the new Library Lounge in the lobby of Mookini Library enjoy a new seating area with furniture made from local woods. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri.

Our university ‘ohana returned from summer break to find a newly furnished lanai and lobby at Mookini Library. With an innovative design connected to nature, the library entranceway now immerses patrons in natural elements with comfortable seating made with local woods, tables shaped like rivers, images of ‘ōhi‘a blooms, and the aroma of fresh brewed local coffee. It’s a comfortable and welcoming place to study, meet up, or sit quietly to collect one’s thoughts. I have seen students gathered there from dawn to well into the evening hours.

A group of people in the food pantry, canned food stocked on shelf
Last semester at the “soft opening” of the food pantry, staff stocked the shelves. From left, Fred Dela Cruz, Building and Maintenance Worker; Eric Rodrigues, Plumber; Shay Hara, Auxiliary and Facilities Services Officer; Kapena Desa, Building and Maintenance Worker. In back is Calvin Fukuhara, Building and Maintenance Supervisor. Courtesy photo.

Hale Pa‘i ‘Ai food pantry is now officially opened and has food available to any UH Hilo student in need of food assistance. Following guidance from the UH System Food Insecurity Committee, our pantry helps those in need, relieving some of the stress of tight budgets and limited resources. We want all our students to be fueled up and ready to learn, not distracted by trying times and nagging hunger. All UH Hilo students in need of food assistance are encouraged to stop by the food pantry during hours of operation!


Two women, one holding microphone, smiling for the camera
Hosting the first wala‘au.

I teamed up with Hawai‘i Community College Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas to host the first wala‘au, a public conversation, about a collective vision of the future. Dialogue and listening were the main goals at the lunch session; Chancellor Solemsaas and I share a passion for community engagement and shared kuleana between the two institutions. Faculty, staff, and administrators from both campuses shared their insights, concerns, and vision of the future for Hawai‘i Island’s students, particularly transfer students, and about how we can work together to build strong pathways between our campuses for student success. College and university leadership is now working to build on the ideas shared at that session.

Logo with seed sprouting with words: Seeds of Opportunity Strategic Planning Summit.UH Hilo also hosted a strategic planning summit. The Seeds of Opportunity Summit gave the campus community and general public a chance to share their mana‘o about the future of the university. The summit capped our strategic pre-planning stage of collecting information for the strategic planning process. Every participant at the summit had a voice, and the conversations, along with those from the recent listening tour with faculty, staff, students, alumni, community members, and business partners, will help move the university forward into the important strategic planning stage.


Mahalo to the university ‘ohana for your hard work in making these and many other accomplishments possible. I wish you all a productive end of the semester and wonderful holiday season. I’ll see you at 2019 Fall Commencement on Saturday, Dec. 21, 9:00 a.m. at the UH Hilo Vulcan Gym.


Bonnie D. Irwin


Header photo: New building for the UH Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy. Photo credit: Raiatea Arcuri.

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Dessert Contest is highlight of annual UH Hilo Holiday Celebration

This year’s Holiday Celebration Dessert Contest winners are Kolby Santiago, assistant director of financial aid, who won First Place and People’s Choice for her “Fuji Apple Pie,” and Maria Vicente, interim admissions counselor, who won 2nd and 3rd Place Honors for her “Santa Hat Brownie Cookies” and “Pumpkin Gingersnap Cheesecakes.”

The event was held Dec. 12—a good time was had by all!

Photos by Raiatea Arcuri, click to enlarge:

Square pieces of cake covered in whip cream.
Kolby Santiago’s “Fuji Apple Pie” won 1st Place and People’s Choice Award.
Brownies with santa hats made from strawberry slices.
Maria Vicente’s “Santa Hat Brownie Cookies” won 2nd Place Honors.
A close up of cupcakes with Christmas trees standing on top.
Maria Vicente’s “Pumpkin Gingersnap Cheesecakes” won 3rd Place Honors.

More YUM

Judges hard at work

The Celebration!

A group of people standing in a room.
Chancellor Bonnie Irwin hosts the 2019 Holiday Celebration.
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Announcement: Bradley Thiessen named as Director of Institutional Research

Dr. Thiessen is excited to join us as we engage in the planning stages for our new strategic plan; he’s eager to analyze data to identify emerging trends and prioritize goals and tactics.

Aloha University of Hawai‘i at Hilo ‘Ohana,

Bradley Thiessen wearing a blue shirt and smiling at the camera.
Bradley Thiessen

I am pleased to announce the appointment of Bradley Thiessen, Ph.D., as our new director of institutional research effective Jan. 2, 2020.

Dr. Thiessen has over fifteen years’ experience in higher education. He has established offices of institutional research twice in his career and has led institutional assessment efforts at three different institutions. He also has served as a faculty member in statistics, earning tenure at two institutions and advancing to the rank of professor in 2014.

He is coming to UH Hilo from New College of Florida, a small, top-ranked, public liberal arts honors college in Sarasota, where he has served since 2016 as the president’s chief of staff, the director of institutional performance assessment, the accreditation liaison, and a professor of statistics.

Dr. Thiessen earned both his master of arts and doctor of philosophy in educational measurement and statistics from the University of Iowa. He also has accreditation as a professional statistician from the American Statistical Association.

Dr. Thiessen is excited to join us as we engage in the planning stages for our new strategic plan; he’s eager to analyze data to identify emerging trends and prioritize goals and tactics. His extensive background and experience will be extremely valuable to our university as we move UH Hilo into the future. Please join me in welcoming Brad to our university ‘ohana.

Bonnie D. Irwin

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