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UH Hilo Chancellor's Blog Posts

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, March 2022: What have we learned from the pandemic?

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

As we countdown the days until our site visit from the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) accreditation team, they have asked the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo community to contemplate a number of things, including, “what UH Hilo has learned from its history and self-reflection (including the impact of the pandemic), the vision it has for the future.”

The history of our university is one of challenges. What other university is located in a region where we must be alert to the threat of both lava and tsunami? We are fortunate to have about half of our budget coming from the state, but at the same time, that makes us vulnerable to the ebb and flow of legislative priorities. And now, of course, the pandemic has “plagued” our campus and community in more ways than one, as we have combatted the physical and mental toll wrought by the disease.

Throughout these challenges, however, we have seen the resilience of our diverse community.

I take pride in the maturity of our students, who have tolerated the distancing and mask mandates; in the agility of our faculty, who quickly pivoted to online course delivery and then back out to in-person and hybrid courses; in the loyalty and work ethic of our staff, many of whom do not have the luxury of being able to work from home. Our entire campus community has shown ingenuity and creativity, and we have shown how much we care for one another.

We also have worked with our community and in our community, espousing those same values.

The ’Imiloa Astronomy Center became a licensed child care facility to host keiki programs. Our clinical students in nursing and pharmacy created public service announcements and helped with testing and vaccination drives. Our classes and student clubs figured out ways to serve and engage though online options.

These are tremendous lessons to learn about what we can do, and now the challenge is to carry that ingenuity and empathy forward when we are not faced with disaster.

The future that we envision, and articulate in our strategic plan, builds on our traditional strengths, such as ‘āina- and community-based learning, but also draws upon what we have learned from the pandemic.

The switch to online learning stopped most of our signature hands-on learning experiences in which our students thrive and that also help us draw students from the continent and internationally who want to take advantage our island’s amazing living learning lab.

But online learning, we discovered, is highly successful at reaching adult learners, students with families, and returning students, for whom online classes make it possible for them to finish. As we return to on-campus classes, we need to find balance between face-to-face and online learning, strategically increasing access and equity.

Another area we are looking at is the importance of giving our employees professional development opportunities, as we did at the start of the pandemic, where we re-doubled our efforts to help faculty and staff adapt to the online environment. More and better professional development has long been a need on our campus, and the pandemic made this even more clear.

Community collaborative partnerships are in our DNA and we have learned from the isolation brought on by the pandemic how important it is to celebrate our accomplishments with one another, and express gratitude both within the campus and with our community. Collaborative work is meaningful, keeps us all connected, builds networks and relationships, and embodies the concept of connecting learning, life and aloha, now more than ever.

I look forward to seeing more of you in person, having more teaching and collaborative work done in person, and then celebrating our successes together.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Remarks at 2022 Spring Welcome Event

The action plan has launched, and staff and faculty across the campus have volunteered to sponsor or collaborate on the action items, each of which will help us forward our goals of equity, ‘āina- and community-based education, and a healthy and vibrant campus ‘ohana.Screenshot of banner: Connecting Learning, Life and Aloha.


Following the introductions of seven new admin, faculty and staff, Chancellor Bonnie Irwin delivered these remarks with slides at the 2022 Spring Welcome held in person on Feb. 9 at the Performing Arts Center, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. View entire event on YouTube.

I’d like to share with you a few thoughts about the university and spring semester.

While the number of people we welcome aboard in spring is relatively small, each has an integral role to play in our success. I am so happy to be celebrating the addition of these wonderful people to our UH Hilo ‘ohana, and we anticipate even more new employees joining our ranks in the fall. We have many searches ongoing for staff, faculty, and administrators.

You and the new colleagues who will start in the fall join our community at a pivotal moment: as we emerge from the pandemic (we hope!) we implement a new strategic plan.

The action plan has launched, and staff and faculty across the campus have volunteered to sponsor or collaborate on the action items, each of which will help us forward our goals of equity, ‘āina- and community-based education, and a healthy and vibrant campus ‘ohana. The goals and the actions to implement them will be featured when the WSCUC visiting team comes to our campus in April.

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Faculty and staff are invited to next University Forum, Feb. 22, 2022

Poster: University Forum, with flags

Faculty and staff at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are invited to the next University Forum scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, noon to 1:00 p.m., via Zoom.

Questions may be submitted in advance to urevents@hawaii.edu. Questions received less than 30 minutes prior to the session may not be addressed and will have to be asked during the forum.

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Feb. 2022: Legislative priorities and the post-pandemic UH Hilo

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

After some adjustments at the beginning of this semester—notably moving some classes online temporarily due to the omicron surge—all classes at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are now returned to their originally scheduled course delivery mode (in-person or hybrid). It has been a successful transition and an important part of moving into post-pandemic life at UH Hilo.

With thoughts of moving forward into a bright and optimistic future, I would like to share with you our priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

Budget

In the big picture, restoring UH Hilo’s budget is a high priority. We have managed resources very carefully during the pandemic and we are grateful for the federal relief funds that have helped to see us through. But we cannot survive if we continue this austerity program. We are hiring this year—faculty, staff, administrators—and look forward to investing time and reserve funds into implementing our strategic plan.

Hiring

On the hiring front, the governor has recognized the importance of UH’s post-pandemic plan and has added faculty lines to his proposed budget. For Hilo, that means new positions in computer science, and nursing. It’s of the utmost importance that we strengthen these two programs due to state need for these professionals.

Computer science

In computer science, job opportunity continues to outpace the number of graduates. I’m pleased to report that enrollment is up in UH Hilo computer science this year. The program has fully embraced hybrid-flexible or HyFlex learning, meaning that for each class, students have a choice between learning in-person, synchronously online, or asynchronously online. The computer science department is doing this type of teaching quite well as they adapt and grow during these stressful pandemic times.

Nursing

Now more than ever, we also need more qualified health care professionals in the workforce. UH Hilo nursing enrollments continue to be strong. Our nursing graduates are on the front lines across our island communities, and even as undergraduates, our nursing students are making a big difference completing projects with local healthcare organizations. To strengthen and grow the program, we have opportunities to partner with other UH campuses to meet the demand.

Aeronautical science

Aeronautical science is another field where the governor supports our planning ahead to meet future job demand. A wave of retirements in the aviation industry, sparked by the slowdown during the pandemic, means that there is an upcoming employment gap. Since opening the aeronautical program two years ago, we have seen a lot of interest in the curriculum’s interdisciplinary components of data science; geography; various science, technology, engineering and math programs (STEM fields); and computer science through available electives. Our first class is getting ready to set off for flight school.

Athletics

For our athletics program, we have a $400,000 supplemental budget for athletics. We had temporary funding that we are seeking to make permanent. Like the campus in general, athletics has been able to cut back during the pandemic when travel was restricted. But we have a good staff of coaches and very promising teams, so we are looking forward to full seasons of competitions with the fans back on the sidelines to watch these student athletes compete.

PISCES

UH Hilo is happy to have PISCES back. The Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems is a state agency once with UH Hilo but then moved to the Hawai‘i Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism. Due to an oversight in the budgeting last year, we received PISCES but not its funding. The current budget seeks to rectify this. The center promotes the aerospace industry in our state, supporting economic development through technologies related to research in planetary exploration. We look forward to working with them on research and economic development projects for our island and state.

Staying on track

Despite all the challenges brought by the pandemic, UH Hilo continues our mission to improve the wellbeing and status of the citizens on Hawai‘i Island and across the state. With support of the State Legislature, we can stay on track with faculty and programs that will benefit everyone in a post-pandemic world.

Thank you for all your support.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Faculty and staff are invited to next University Forum, Jan. 19, 2022

Poster: University Forum, with flags

Faculty and staff at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are invited to the next University Forum scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 19, noon to 1:00 p.m., via Zoom.

Zoom link: http://go.hawaii.edu/3MV
Meeting ID: 940 7784 0342
Passcode: 609147

Questions may be submitted in advance to urevents@hawaii.edu. Questions received less than 30 minutes prior to the session may not be addressed and will have to be asked during the forum.

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