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UH Hilo Chancellor's Blog Posts

Chancellor’s remarks at “Healing Through Culture and Arts” symposium

A collage of photos from the symposium of people doing lei making and other cultural art. At the center is banner: Healing Through Culture and Arts.
Photos from the “Healing Through Culture and Arts” symposium, Oct. 6.. (Alana Ortiz/Waiolama)

Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin delivered these remarks at a campus symposium titled “Healing Through Culture and Arts” held on Oct. 6. The event was presented by the UH Hilo Office of Equal Opportunity; the Committee for Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and the Waiolama Center, which is UH Hilo’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Center. The event celebrated UH Hilo’s diversity with workshops and discussions.

Aloha mai kākou,

Hōʻoia ʻĀina (Land Acknowledgement Statement)

He kalahea kēia a ke Kulanui o Hawaiʻi ma Hilo, mai ke Keʻena o ke Poʻo Kulanui:
He honua ʻōiwi ʻo Hawaiʻi nona ka poʻe ʻōiwi o ka ʻāina, ʻo ia nā kānaka Hawaiʻi. Aia kēia kulanui ma kēia ahupuaʻa ʻo Waiākea, ma ka moku ʻo Hilo. Kū nō ke Kulanui o Hawaiʻi ma Hilo i ka hoʻohiki a Ke Kulanui o Hawaiʻi e hoʻoulu i ke ola o ke kaiāulu ʻōiwi ma o ka hana kālaʻike ma nā kahua kula he ʻumi o ka ʻōnaehana papahana hoʻōiwi kulanui i kapa ʻia ʻo Hawaiʻi Papa O Ke Ao. He leo aloha kēia i ka poʻe a pau e ʻākoakoa ana i ʻaneʻi.

Aloha mai kākou.


On behalf of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, the Office of the Chancellor acknowledges the following:
Hawaiʻi is an indigenous space whose original people are today identified as Native Hawaiians. The university is in the land division called Waiākea, in the district of Hilo. The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo aligns with the University of Hawaiʻi System’s commitment to fostering the wellbeing of indigenous communities through academic processes put into effect with the ten-campus, system-wide transformation called Hawaiʻi Papa O Ke Ao. This land acknowledgement welcomes everyone who gathers here.

Greetings to all.

I am honored to welcome you to the Fall Symposium on Healing through Culture & Arts, hosted by the Waiolama Center here at UH Hilo.

It is important, especially on a day when we contemplate racial healing through arts and culture, that we take a moment to honor those who originally settled here. As a relative newcomer to this place, I am grateful to be allowed to share this space in which to live and work.

Two years ago, UH Hilo applied successfully to be a center for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT). This program, sponsored by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), allows us to build on our already robust programming on diversity, equity, and inclusion here on campus as part of a network of nearly 50 universities, including our sister campus at Mānoa. Waiolama, aims to provide a safe space for the campus community to engage in critical conversations around racial disparities and systemic injustices, both past and present, and promote healing and understanding of shared humanity.

Today, Waiolama brings us together through arts and culture, both of which form the basis for identity, communication, and healing.

My mother, who is an artist, ran into an old friend at church last week. They had not seen each other for a few years, so my mother got her friend up to speed on her recent health challenges, and the first question her friend, also an artist, asked her was, “Have you gotten back to your art yet?” Mom’s friend Pat knows not only that art is important to my mother, but also the role in can play in our physical and mental health. As I participate today, I reflect on those same things.

Through the practice of traditional arts we can also build connection to our native Hawaiian host culture, nurture our connection to ʻāina, and come together as a campus ʻohana.

We are rightly proud of our status as one of the most diverse universities in the country, but without doing the hard and important work on equity and inclusion, that diversity statistic is just a number. Through the efforts of Waiolama and other programs on campus, we hope to be able to truly be a model of equity and justice for others, to be a center for healing and unity in our community, and to be a place where every student and employee feels welcomed and valued.

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Oct. 2023: UH Hilo’s colleges of business and pharmacy are focused on strengthening ties with the community

Bonnie Irwin pictured
Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin

In my ongoing series of columns on the six colleges at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and their impact on the community, this month I’d like to focus on the College of Business and Economics and the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy.

College of Business and Economics

Our College of Business and Economics is one of only two business schools in the state accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. This is a distinction shared by fewer than 10 percent of business schools world-wide. Attending an AACSB-accredited institution ensures our students are receiving their education and degree from one of the best business schools in the world.

As of last year, the college is under new leadership with Todd Inouye, an associate professor of management who started teaching at the college in 2019. Within two years, he was promoted from assistant professor to associate professor, and last year received tenure, something he feels is a great honor and validation of his hard work, offering him a sense of belonging.

Todd Inouye pictured.
Todd Inouye

He is now focused on expanding community-engaged opportunities at the college for both students and faculty, and on how the college can contribute to cross-disciplinary collaboration both within and outside of UH Hilo. A great example of this is Delta Sigma Pi, the college’s co-ed business fraternity, that holds events to introduce students to local business owners to jumpstart internships and practical experience opportunities of benefit to both.

The college is also engaged with the Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Hawai‘i and the Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce, and hosted a “fireside chat” with HICC members and the college’s leadership and faculty last spring.

Plans are underway to update the college’s advisory board membership for a more community-oriented approach. This development is in conjunction with meetings with stakeholders such as the UH System’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization, Hilo Fish Company, Waiakea High School, and Honoka‘a High and Intermediate School, to explore options to grow and enhance student learning. The college is well-positioned for success in these initiatives.

Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy

At the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy we are currently searching for a permanent dean. For the past year-and-a-half, the college has been under the leadership of interim dean Miriam Mobley Smith, who came to us with experience in this kind of role. She immediately focused on the college’s transition between deans and in stewarding the college in its vision of the future.

Miriam Mobley Smith pictured.
Miriam Mobley Smith

Finding faculty at the college most concerned about enrollment, curriculum, revenue, research, and the college community’s environment and atmosphere, the interim dean set her priorities to strengthen and enhance those areas, including the expansion of research, community collaborations, and clinical services. Notably, she has created pathways for students from the other nine UH campuses into our pharmacy program. Placing emphasis on making a difference in the local community is the driving force behind it all.

As the interim dean says, the bottom line is that good medicine can help communities, and it is our responsibility to make positive differences in our community. The action plan to achieve this is in strengthening connections between students and the resources offered through both the college and local community. A crucial connecting point for this is through faculty who can serve as mentors, assist with community networking, arrange volunteer experiences, and be aware of local health care niches in which students can intern and then later develop their careers.

I’m excited about the future for both these colleges as their ties become stronger with the communities we serve and our students are trained and educated in a way that makes them productive and responsible global citizens even before they graduate.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Sept. 2023: Updates on College of Arts and Sciences, and College of Ag

Bonnie Irwin pictured
Bonnie Irwin

Although I usually focus on University of Hawai‘i at Hilo as a whole, there is a lot going on in our six colleges that shows where we are going and the impact our university has on our community, and I’d like to focus on them for the coming months’ columns. The College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management, for example, both provide excellent opportunities for students to learn and grow.

College of Arts and Sciences

The College of Arts and Sciences offers a wide range of undergraduate programs in social and earth sciences, political science, sociology, the arts, language, history, and more. It also houses the School of Education that offers two master degree programs that directly impact our local communities—one prepares students to become teachers, the other fosters professional growth of current teachers. Other graduate programs are in counseling psychology and heritage management, also of great benefit to our local communities. Several certificate programs help students round out their skillset.

Michael Bitter pictured
Michael Bitter

Leading the college is Michael Bitter, a professor of history who taught at UH Hilo for 17 years before becoming interim dean of the college several years ago; he is now the permanent dean. He’s been working on a variety of initiatives designed to improve student support as well as faculty and staff success. He’s also actively engaged in promoting the expansion of academic programs and collaborating with the Center for Global Education and Exchange to increase exchange opportunities for UH Hilo students to study at partner universities, both nationally and internationally.

The research and internships happening at the college are often inter-related; it’s not unusual for students to work alongside researchers, gathering and analyzing data, with their names included on published studies in leading journals, reflecting their contributions to this important work. Much of this research directly affects our island communities and environment, for example, students are working closely with faculty on investigating mental and physical health issues of combat veterans and firefighters, timely work given the recent wildfire tragedies on Maui.

The College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management

Norman Arancon pictured
Norman Arancon

The College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management is now under new leadership. Norman Arancon, who started his work as director of the college over the summer, is a horticulturalist who joined UH Hilo in 2008. He specializes in sustainable agriculture, horticulture, crop sciences, agroecology, and organic agriculture. His research on vermiculture and vermicomposting is recognized and valued internationally, and the totality of his expertise is of great benefit to the Hawai‘i agricultural community.

He’s also been very involved in college affairs and the UH Hilo community, with student success a high priority. I know he will make an excellent leader for the college.

The college offers baccalaureate degrees in three areas: animal health and management, including a pre-veterinary option; aquaculture; and tropical agroecology. The college also offers certificates in beekeeping and equine science. Overall curriculum includes classroom work plus hands-on, practical, technology-based education at the university’s agricultural farm laboratory in Pana‘ewa.

In this college, too, faculty and students are conducting research of great importance to our island and state agricultural communities as well as the public at large. For example, students are working closely with researchers investigating the feasibility of growing substantial amounts of “energycane,” sugar cane used for its biomass as a source for jet fuel—groundbreaking research happening at the farm lab that has the potential to impact local farmers, the state’s sustainability goals, and the local economy.

This college also provides a home for our new aeronautical science program. We celebrated the first two graduates last spring, and the program is being offered provisionally beginning this fall. There are two pathways: the pilot pathway is the first step in a lucrative career as an airline pilot; the aerial information technology pathway leads to professional certification as a commercial drone operator. Professional pilots and drone operators are much needed locally, nationally, and internationally, and this program will produce skilled graduates ready for the workforce or advanced training.

I’m excited about the changes and growth happening at these two colleges, and I look forward to updating you about our other colleges in future columns.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Message from the Chancellor: Supporting those affected by Maui wildfires


UH Hilo seal, red lettering University of Hawaii and the state motto.I am sure you share my care and concern for our Maui neighbors and the devastation their community is experiencing from the wildfires. We want everyone in our university ‘ohana who is being impacted to know we are thinking of you and are ready to help as best we can.

On our local campus level, I have asked members of our campus community to please kōkua those who have ʻohana affected, and exercise patience with students who may be arriving late from Maui or distracted by events.

The Division of Student Affairs is working with their counterparts across the UH System to support students. At UH Hilo, the following people are ready to provide assistance:

I encourage those of you who have the will and ability to donate, to consider these options (there are others as well):

The County of Hawaiʻi administration is assembling a task force to see what UH Hilo can do to help, not only for short term needs, but also with mid- to long-term recovery. I will share information about what kind of role the university might play in these efforts once I learn more. If you have ideas along these lines, please feel free to share them with me.

Be well,

Bonnie D. Irwin
University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, August 2023: The importance of peer mentoring

Bonnie Irwin pictured
Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin

When I was a faculty member, one of my colleagues used to say that students do not aspire to be like their professors; they aspire to be seniors. Graduation is the goal, and one of the things that helps students get there is hearing from their peers. To that end, UH Hilo is involved in a number of peer mentoring activities, which allow students to learn from students.

For example, at the student-designed Ka Pouhana Mentoring Program, university student mentors team up with faculty members to give individualized support to local high school students as they start their years at UH Hilo. The program is modeled on a number of successful student-led and partnership mentoring models as well as research on adolescent development and student support conducted by Margary Martin, an associate professor at UH Hilo’s School of Education.

Since fall 2022, 10 faculty mentors and peer mentors at Ka Pouhana have provided foundational support to about 50 first-year students from Hawaiʻi Island during their first two years at UH Hilo. It is a cohort model where both seasoned students and faculty focus on imparting a sense of belonging and wellbeing to new students while also nurturing leadership development and a strong sense of service to the community.

Another way for students to connect with peers and faculty is through UH Hilo’s First Year Experience program, which organizes orientation for new students at the start of each semester. A big part of FYE is facilitating the Mentor Collective, a “start to finish” resource of mentors (peers, faculty, staff) designed to help students build a strong foundation for academic and social success. This personal outreach really imparts a clear understanding that our university community is ‘ohana to each and every student.

An avenue for Native Hawaiian students to find support is through the Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center, which promotes Native Hawaiian student success through culturally appropriate services and activities, including peer mentoring. The Ho‘olau peer mentor service is offered to first-year students and transfer students to help them navigate their new university life. Tutoring services are offered in Hawaiian studies, the sciences, hula, and other fields. Kiha Stevens, a student mentor for Kīpuka, describes the center as “a home away from home, and a family away from family.” For many, Kīpuka provides this sense of ‘ohana, where students can find both academic and cultural mentors to help them on their UH Hilo journey.

We also engage our graduate students with undergraduates, notably in the sciences and education, where mentorship, knowledge, and inspiration are freely exchanged. For example, undergrads in our Keaholoa STEM Scholars Program are working with graduate students in both the heritage management program and the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program. Heritage management grad students Shania Tamagyongfal and Jerolynn Myazoe and environmental studies undergraduate Tromainne Joab are working together on research into oral histories of Marshallese and Yapese voyaging. Graduate and undergraduate students at the School of Education are jointly participating in local ‘āina-based experiences to enhance respect and understanding of place.

This type of learning environment—where more experienced students reach out to mentor up-and-coming undergraduates in the spirit of community and ‘ohana—also benefits the mentors. Actively introducing someone less experienced to new information (social or academic) or to the whole culture of academia in general, or working with someone less experienced in a research project where peer mentors can impart skills they have already learned, helps the mentor retain that knowledge, helps those skills become ingrained. Mentor and mentee benefit mutually and much more successfully than if each were siloed off into only reading text books and listening to lectures. This is why we practice hands-on learning and peer mentoring.

At UH Hilo, we are guided by the wise words, ʻaʻohe pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi (one learns from many sources). In our mission to challenge students to reach their highest level of academic achievement by inspiring learning, discovery, and creativity inside and outside the classroom, one of the most successful sources of learning is peer mentorship.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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