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UH Hilo Chancellor's Blog Posts

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Jan. 2021: Focusing our attention on students

We look to 2021 and exciting things to come!

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

As I write this, we just concluded the fall semester. Our virtual fall 2020 commencement celebration and the first live drive-through ceremony in the history of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo were a great success. I am incredibly proud of all our graduates and what they accomplished during these truly challenging times. We all need a little celebration in our lives, and these students have earned our praise.

This success would not have been possible without the hard work of our stellar faculty and staff who weathered a difficult semester delivering quality education and services not only to graduates but to all our students. Everyone rose to the challenge, and many faculty new to teaching online spent countless hours in elective training to enhance web-based learning for their students.

Professor of Japanese Yoshiko Okuyama says the university’s moral and financial support for faculty technology training, and assistance from our distance learning team, helped immensely in converting courses into full-fledged online classes. Kris Roney, UH Hilo’s vice chancellor for academic affairs, informed Prof. Okuyama and her colleagues about a six-week program for foreign language teachers run by the Center for Language and Technology based at UH Mānoa. Prof. Okuyama says she seized on the opportunity and completed the training for computer-assisted language instruction.

Professor of Chemistry Norbert Furumo, new to web-based teaching, quickly discovered that the conversion to delivering classes in an online space wasn’t just a major adjustment for students, but for educators, too. As he himself learned about online formats and adjusted his classes, he advised his students to continue to work toward their degrees. “Do not sit out a semester or two because classes are online. Online classes may be around for a while so stay on track to achieve your life’s goals.”

Faculty who had been teaching online for years still had some adjustments to make.

Professor of Psychology Cheryl Ramos, despite her own familiarity with online teaching, kept the new challenges and stresses students now face at the forefront of her planning. “What kind of internet connection do they have? What kind of space and home environment do they have to do work remotely?” Her students felt cared for, keeping burnout and stress at bay.

Many of our professors say that although online classes can be a challenge, silver linings are everywhere. Marine biologist Tim Grabowski sees the inconveniences and discomforts of online learning as an opportunity for future conservation biologists to train for global teleconferencing and collaboration. Language faculty Monica Minnitt and Faith Mishima see opportunities to invest in our students in new and exciting ways, “being more merciful but not lenient, more understanding but also more involved.”

This can-do spirit and determination are what got us through the pandemic thus far, and will see us through the next semester, too. So now we look to 2021 and exciting things to come. Here are examples.

UH Hilo Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center received a new Title III Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions grant that will support retention and graduation rates, allowing us to continue to enhance our support of Native Hawaiian students. The UH Hilo Student Support Services Program received another U.S. Department of Education TRIO grant award that will allow the program to continue providing services to low income and first generation UH Hilo students for another five years. These efforts support students staying on course and getting closer to the goal of graduation.

Looking to boost our island’s economic recovery, the College of Business and Economics is offering three courses this semester geared toward executive education. The courses are on real estate investment, career exploration in management, and digital business development and marketing. Each course draws on the college’s particular pool of expertise and is geared toward managerial or executive level students who are likely to have college degrees already.

Our data visualization projects continue, one of which has master printmaker Jon Goebel and marine scientist John Burns teamed up to create an enlarged 3D sculpture of a coral colony. The project is meant to spark a perceptual shift in viewers about the significance that corals play in the ocean’s ecosystem. The project is but one of many we hope will come out of our data science team, who are also in the process of developing a new major for students to learn important skills in big data that are behind so much of what we do today, whether it be in science, business, or health care.

UH Hilo is an ideal place for interdisciplinary teams like this to come together to address the big issues, and I am confident that we will be able to continue to serve our island and see more happy graduates in the years to come.

I wish you all a happy and safe new year!


Bonnie D. Irwin

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Holiday Greeting from the Chancellor

Na ko kākou mau pōmaika‘i he nui e hō‘olu mai i kēia kau.

May our many blessings comfort us this season.


Bonnie D. Irwin



Photo: ‘Ōhi‘a lehua by Bonnie D. Irwin.

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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Chancellor and UH Hilo group visit volcanic eruption

The group headed out to see the eruption in the late afternoon on Dec. 23 and watched until sunset so they could see the glow. “It was an amazing experience!” says Chancellor Irwin.

Chancellor Irwin with eruption plume in background.
Chancellor Irwin takes a selfie at eruption site, Dec. 23, 2020.

Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin, Vice Chancellor Kris Roney, Dean Jim Mike (the new dean for the College of Natural and Health Sciences), along with geology faculty from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, yesterday visited the site of the ongoing volcanic eruption at Halema‘uma‘u crater, Hawai‘i Island. The volcanic event began late the night of winter solstice Dec. 20.

Steve Lundblad and Darcy Bevens from the geology department headed the tour at Volcanoes National Park. The group viewed the steam from the eruption from two different angles, and saw samples of Pele’s hair (volcanic glass), ash, and volcanic rock.

Bright green fern surrounded by lava and dead ferns.
Chancellor Irwin, an avid photographer of plants, caught this photo of a fern surviving the eruption. Click to enlarge.

“We learned about how geologists measure the movement of the land as craters collapse, and our island continues to grow,” says Chancellor Irwin. “We saw lava trees, the places where a tree stopped the lava flow but then burned away, leaving a hole where the tree had been.”

The group headed out to see the eruption in the late afternoon and watched until sunset so they could see the glow. “It was an amazing experience!” says the Chancellor.

“It was wonderful to tour the park with knowledgeable geology faculty and staff  and to hear about the work our alumni are doing as part of the USGS HVO (Hawaiian Volcano Observatory),” she says. “It is such a privilege to have such awesome natural wonders practically in our back yard here in Hilo. Each eruption is different than the next and each is fascinating. Makes me want to take a geology class!”

Chancellor Irwin, an avid photographer of flowers and plants, caught a bright green fern surviving the eruption. “I can’t help but take pictures of plants,” says the Chancellor. “Such resilience they have!”

Photos of tour, click to enlarge:

The people standing in front of erupting volcano with plume heading up into sky.
From left, Kris Roney, Jim Mike, and Bonnie Irwin at Halema‘uma‘u crater at the summit of Kīlauea, Hawai‘i Island, Dec. 23, 2020. Photo by Darcy Bevens.
Two people standing at an overlook with volcanic plume in background.
Bonnie Irwin and Steve Lundblad compare Kīlauea Iki 1959 eruption (foreground) with current eruption of Halemaumau (plume in background), Dec. 23, 2020. Photo by Darcy Bevens.
Group of people stand near a lava outcrop.
Geologist Steve Lundblad (center front) explains formation of tree molds, while Dean Jim Mike, his wife, and Nancy Lundblad keep social distance. Photo by Darcy Bevens.
As it gets dark, a group of people view plume from eruption.
As the sun begins to set, Jim Mike (left) and Kris Roney (foreground) carefully maintain social distance from Steve Lundblad (at tripod) while viewing Halema‘uma‘u plume, Dec. 23, 2020. Photo by Darcy Bevens.
Plume is glowing in the dark, silhouettes of group on the side.
After sunset, the administrators enjoy a view of other visitors, silhouetted against the Halaumaumau plume, Dec. 23, 2020. Photo by Darcy Bevens.


Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories.

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Dec. 2020: A time to celebrate our students

I join all university ‘ohana, friends, mentors, and members of our island community in celebrating our graduates.

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

This semester started off as a roller coaster of changes but I have been greatly impressed with the way the campus community, guided by an unwavering dedication to our mission here at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, deftly pivoted to continue providing our students with a quality education.

And so here we are preparing for 2020 Fall Commencement, which we are putting together virtually with some options for safe interaction with others.

It was not easy for our graduates to reach this milestone. Although some labs, studios and clinical experiences were done in person, most education was conducted online. These online platforms have been highly successful at delivering a quality education, but isolation and quarantine for energetic, curious minds is difficult, loss of social gatherings is difficult, switching to online learning is difficult, coping with a global pandemic is difficult.

However, our campus, in fact all UH campuses, are some of the safest in the country while still fulfilling our mission. Why? Because our stellar students are not inclined to throw away opportunities through irresponsible behavior. Our graduates, and those still working their way toward completing their degrees, know how precious this opportunity for higher education is, and they buckled down to get the job done. I know I share the sentiments of faculty, staff, and our Hawai‘i Island community at large, when I say how proud I feel about our graduates! Well done!

On the other side of the coronavirus, there will be need for even more economic development that is culturally and environmentally sensitive. Our graduates are prepared for these jobs. They came to UH Hilo to work toward a better life for themselves and to contribute to raising the quality of life for their families and their communities. And as we all emerge from the coronavirus crisis into a new world, our communities and ‘ohana will need the skills and knowledge these graduates have acquired.

Traditionally, commencement would be in person for friends and family to share in this joyous occasion. But as we continue to adapt to an online life to help keep us safe and sound, I want to assure you that we still share deep pride in all our students reaching graduation in spite of all the challenges swirling around us. Each student’s accomplishment at reaching graduation is still the most important thing.

I join all university ‘ohana, friends, mentors, and members of our island community in celebrating our graduates. I know each of these amazing scholars will make a big difference in helping our communities move forward in these perilous times, doing their part to help change the world for the better.

I wish everyone a safe and joyous holiday season. I mua!


Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Thanksgiving Message

Aloha Kākou,

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

Best wishes for the Thanksgiving holiday and the upcoming weekend. I hope everyone finds some time for rest and reflection.

It would be easy to think about what we don’t have this holiday, but I find myself turning more and more to gratitude for what we do have; chief among those things is one another. We are a resilient, caring community, dedicated to our mission of educating students and lifting up our community, and everyone continues to play an important role in that mission.

Mahalo to those of you who have reached out with empathy to your students and colleagues, taking on a part of their burden as well as your own. Please take some time this week to care for yourselves and find the joys, both large and small, that come with living in this special place among our family and friends.

In this holiday week, I share with you one of my favorite poems. The species referenced may not be quite relevant to Hawaiʻi, but the sentiment surely is.

Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

With gratitude for what you do every day for our students and for UH Hilo.

Bonnie D. Irwin


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