Aug 152010
 

Column by UH Hilo Chancellor Donald O. Straney
UH Hilo Today
Hawaii Tribune-Herald
Aug. 2010

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Seizing Opportunity

As I go about meeting the faculty, staff and students at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and the community-at-large, I am often asked why I sought the Chancellor’s job when it meant leaving my position as Dean of Science at Cal Poly Pomona. My reply is, “why not?” Ask any number of my colleagues in the higher education community and they will tell you UH Hilo is positioned for a great future.

One advantage this campus has over larger universities is its role and impact on the community it serves. At Cal Poly Pomona we had an enrollment of 20,000 students, serving 12 million people throughout the Los Angeles basin. With an area and population of that size, the university’s impact on the greater community is anybody’s guess.

Here, with our enrollment of 4,000 students serving approximately 178,000 Big Island residents, the impact is much more obvious. The parents who enroll their children at UH Hilo, the businesses that hire our graduates and those who support us with their time and hard earned money can see first-hand how we meet the educational and economic needs of the community.

Another aspect I found appealing is the university’s progressive outlook. UH Hilo’s desire to grow in spite of the current state of the economy is uncommon, yet wise from my point-of-view. We all recognize the need for belt tightening when you lack the money to do what you are used to. But belt tightening by itself is a recipe for remaining poor. At some point we must prepare to take advantage of an improving economy. We may not be able to do everything we’d like, but experience tells us that the first to recognize and seize an opportunity reaps the greatest benefits and sets the pace for those who follow.

As a recent arrival, it would be presumptuous of me at this point to spell out a long-term vision for this campus and what its fulfillment would look like. That vision will emerge in part from talks with faculty, staff, students and the community as well as our new strategic plan that is now being developed. At the heart of these discussions are some basic questions I consider central to this University:

1) How do we enhance student success?

2) How do we meet the educational needs of the entire island?

3) What are the priority directions UH Hilo should take?

The answers to those questions will largely determine the university’s vision, its mission and what this campus will look like in five to ten years.

We begin this process from a position of strength, as my findings have validated UH Hilo’s reputation as an inventive, well-run institution, moving in the right direction with very little that needs fixing. That is a testament to the vision and achievements of former Chancellor Rose Tseng, along with the faculty and staff who carried out that vision while maintaining high standards and developing practices that keep the university running well. I’m looking forward to helping shape the future of this fine university.

Aug 012010
 

Message from UH Hilo Chancellor Donald O. Straney
Chamber Connection Newsletter
Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce
Aug. 2010

UH Hilo’s North Hawai‘i Education and Research Center

As I move into my second month as University of Hawai‘i at Hilo chancellor, I’m discovering how many excellent programs and facilities this university has to offer. I’ve begun a series of visits with all the units of UH Hilo, and I’m finding much to be proud of.

In this month’s column, I’d like to highlight one important UH Hilo off-campus facility: the North Hawai‘i Education and Research Center in Honoka‘a. Since May of 2006, NHERC has been meeting diverse community needs under the leadership of its entrepreneurial director, Farrah-Marie Gomes.

NHERC’s mission is to provide access to college credit classes, lifelong learning opportunities, and a centralized, technology-rich meeting place for the North Hawai‘i community.

The center grew out of a collaboration involving UH Hilo, Hawaii Community College, North Hawai‘i communities, and the Hawai‘i State legislature. The facility is fully equipped with up-to-date instructional technology, classrooms, large meeting spaces, and a computer lab.

To increase access to higher education, college classes are offered at NHERC during the fall and spring semesters. Classes typically attract a mix of high school students and non-traditional adult learners, which leads to interesting discussions and unique learning experiences. Recently, online classes have been added to provide even more options for students.

High school students regularly participate in credit classes through the Running Start program, which allows them to receive credits for both high school and college. NHERC also offers credit classes in Waimea at Kanu o ka ‘Aina.

The number of non-traditional, adult learners has increased, partly because we are making evening classes available at sites closer to home. For many North Hawai‘i residents, the need to work full time and also meet family responsibilities hinders access to higher education opportunities in either Hilo or Kona. Local residents are now realizing that it may be possible to attain their higher education goals through NHERC.

Students are able to access university support services from NHERC. The center’s Distance Learning Coordinator and Academic Support Specialist provide assistance to both prospective and current students. Additionally, NHERC provides support, including exam proctoring, to students working on online degrees and certificates offered by other UH system campuses.

In the spirit of responsiveness, a scholarship fund was created to assist in meeting students’ financial needs with partial and full tuition scholarships. Over thirty scholarships have been awarded thus far.

Lifelong learning classes are also provided to help people explore new activities and build new skills. Topics offered and class locations depend upon community demand. In addition to NHERC, classes have been given in Ka‘u, Pahoa, Waikoloa, and Kona. In some cases, when NHERC is unable to meet an identified need, NHERC has been able to find an entity willing to step in to fulfill that need for the community.

The NHERC facility is still expanding. By January, construction should be completed for a number of additional rooms, an outdoor pavilion, and space for the new Heritage Center. The search process is also under way for a faculty member to serve as the Heritage Center Coordinator, with an estimated start date for this position of January 2011.

UH Hilo is able to maintain a strong presence in North Hawai‘i through NHERC’s creative thinking and resourceful approach to challenges. The center’s staff also works closely with the community, most notably NHERC’s community advisory board, which helps guide the center’s development. By collaborating with the community in creative ways, NHERC’s talented and dedicated staff is able to provide opportunities for North Hawai‘i residents to pursue college education without leaving home.

Donald Straney
Chancellor, UH Hilo

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