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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, June 2021: Accreditation review will bring fresh perspectives

During the review, our resilience and resourcefulness will be on full display: we know we are not perfect, but we also know that we have overcome challenges and will continue to do so into the future.

Bonnie D. Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

In October, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo will host a team representing the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), the accrediting agency that will assess how well our university is fulfilling its mission in educating students and serving our community.

When they come to visit, they will meet with university students, staff, administrators, campus governing groups, alumni, and community members. They will review reams of data and reports and study how well our students learn, how the university addresses issues of equity, and how we manage our financial and personnel resources.

The Core Commitments of the Organization are the same as our own: Student Learning and Success; Quality and Improvement; and Institutional Integrity, Sustainability, and Accountability. All these commitments reflect the framework in which we operate every day.

In addition to reviewing the institution’s following of the Core Commitments, the team will look to how well our students acquire the Core Competencies: written and oral communication, quantitative reasoning, information literacy, and critical thinking.

Other values, such as an appreciation for diversity and civic engagement are qualities they will look for in our graduates, as well as the so-called soft skills such as working well with others. All the ingredients of a high-quality education will be reviewed and suggestions will be offered.

The process is designed to be collegial and allow our peers (a team of administrators and faculty) to make suggestions so that we can improve. The team understands the challenges we face, particularly as we have had to navigate the pandemic by moving most of the curriculum online and dealing with constrained budgets. It is not a time for trying to cover up our challenges and potential weaknesses, but to demonstrate how we address them and how we plan to improve.

At UH Hilo, our resilience and resourcefulness will be on full display: we know we are not perfect, but we also know that we have overcome challenges and will continue to do so into the future.

The visit will also give us an opportunity to present our plans for the future. The UH System is embarking on a revision of general education, and faculty from across the ten campuses will be engaged in this process, keeping those WSCUC competencies firmly in mind.

UH Hilo will also present its strategic plan to the visiting team. Our goals of strengthening our commitments to students, community and ‘āina, and one another, align quite well with the WSCUC commitments.

Our strategies for addressing these commitments will include such things as increased collaboration across the campus and with our community partners; creating connections across academic fields to prepare students even better for working in a world where many different sources of knowledge need to be applied to the big issues of the day; and creating more opportunities for hands-on learning.

In order to provide our students with the skills they will need into the future, those of us who work on campus need to keep learning and growing and improving how we go about fulfilling our educational mission.

One of those things that WSCUC looks at is how the whole campus engages in these efforts, and the many listening and talk story sessions leading up to the strategic plan will provide ample evidence to our attempts to get everyone involved. From visits to campus units to our “Seeds of Opportunity” strategic planning summit, to our strategic doing projects including our island podcast, Ka Leo o ka Uluau, and our storytelling events, Wailau, we have hopefully given everyone an opportunity both to weigh in on the forthcoming plan and begin to taste its fruits.

I look forward to what we will learn from the team when they come this fall. Our institutional mission—‘A‘ohe pau ka ‘ike i ka hālau ho‘okahi (One learns from many sources)—includes learning from colleagues from outside our university, who will be able to look at us with fresh eyes and fresh perspectives. We can always do better, and our students and community deserve our best.


Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor invites UH Hilo community to comment on draft of Strategic Plan

Papahana UH Hilo Strategic Plan

Aloha UH Hilo ‘Ohana,

We have received valuable suggestions for and insight about our campus Strategic Plan draft. Mahalo! Please continue to send us your comments through June 15.

Sections of this plan were drafted by incorporating contributions received throughout this process including our University forums, many small group discussions, Summit, survey responses, and emails. Pre-planning evidence and analysis is available online in several reports. As suggestions received were incorporated and shared, it was often expressed that contributing to a formatted draft of all of the sections was preferred. Our “behind-the-scenes” team converted those sections practically overnight into the beautiful document shared with campus last week.

An unfortunate consequence has been the perception that the plan is complete. This Strategic Plan draft continues to be a work in progress. The team has made accessing this draft and providing feedback even easier through the Strategic Planning website. Two feedback options are also accessible from this website.

The next piece of the strategic plan, a draft of the initial Action Plan, will be shared for comments soon. A working draft of the initial strategies relative to our goals outlined in the Strategic Plan was shared prior to and discussed during the April University Forums. An updated list of those initial strategies is in the works for additional feedback. Many are anxious to delve down to measurable actions for the strategies. We are almost there!


Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, April 2021: State of the University

Chancellor Irwin delivered the 2021 State of the University Address virtually on March 31, 2021. The chancellor shares highlights of the address in this month’s column. Video and transcript of the full SOTU is online here.

Chancellor Bonnnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

A little over a year ago, I was preparing to deliver a State of the University address, but COVID-19 had other plans for us and the address was postponed. As we emerge from the pandemic, however, it is time to take stock and look ahead, and thus I virtually delivered the 2021 State of the University on March 31. I’d like to share some highlights with you here.

Where we are today

Despite all the challenges brought by the pandemic, the general state of the campus is good, and I believe the outlook is bright. Here are some quicks stats on where we are.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo was once again named by US News & World Report as the most ethnically diverse national university in the country. We still serve more women than men, a nationwide trend and something to pay attention to especially as it pertains to students from Hawai‘i Island. Over 70 percent of our enrollment is in-state and over 50 percent is from Hawai‘i Island. This reflects our primary responsibility.

But our total enrollment has been decreasing from fall to fall. Given the way enrollments across the country decreased due to the pandemic, however, I am pleased that we held on as well as we did. Before the pandemic, we were definitely slowing the trend, with enrollment being down only one percent from 2018 to 2019.

Some good news is that there is upward movement in first-time freshman. Programs in business, psychology, marine science, and kinesiology and exercise science continue to be our most popular. There also is an upward trend in first-generation students. Our number of students of Hawaiian ancestry remains robust, accounting for over a third of our enrollment and growing. Serving these students is a major part of our kuleana as a Hawaiian serving institution.

Our freshman-to-sophomore retention is good but it could be better. Still, the last two years are better than the three before that, so we are definitely moving in the right direction. Retention is the key to growing our enrollment. The more students who have good experiences here and are successful, the more students will want to attend our university.

Our graduation rates are certainly influenced by our retention rates.  The good news is that the average time to degree is under five years. The not-so-good news, is that not enough students are graduating. We shall be directing our attention even more strongly to student success in the new strategic plan now being developed.

We’ve been talking about budget a lot this year, and while I am more optimistic about the next few years than I was several months ago, we need to stay fiscally conservative. We have been able to keep our tuition reserve strong, which will help us make investments in the future. The legislature still has not decided our general-funds budget for the next biennium, but it is now looking as though the cuts will not be as deep as the governor originally proposed.

Two other important sources of funding are donations and grants. We are fortunate and grateful that our community supports us to the extent they do with private donations. In a reciprocal commitment, one of the ways we show our value to the community is through grant-funded research, much of which impacts our island’s people and environment in meaningful ways.

A Vision for the Future

UH Hilo exists to improve the quality of life on this island, in this state, and in the greater Pacific region. Our purpose is to empower leaders who will cultivate opportunity in our communities. We challenge students to reach their academic, personal, and professional goals through hands-on learning in our rich natural and cultural environment.

Further, we recognize that one learns through many sources—ʻAʻohe pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi—and thus we recognize that our campus ‘ohana has much to learn from the ‘āina and our community.

Through the current planning of our new Strategic Plan, three goals have emerged:

  1. Support Student Success with a Focus on Equity. Our diversity is our strength and truly meaningful when we focus on equity, removing barriers to opportunity, fair treatment, and access for all.
  2. Strengthen Our Relationship with Our Region. True partnership with the island means ideas, collaborative learning and research, and reciprocal relationships make a difference in the lives of people, contributing to a resilient and sustainable future for Hawai‘i.
  3. Support and Strengthen Our Campus Culture. This includes strengthening infrastructure by improving facilities and operations, but it also means improving the ways in which people support their colleagues.

By working together, we can build a bright future for our students, our university, and our community.


Bonnie D. Irwin

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Karen Kopera-Frye recommended as new dean of College of Arts and Sciences

Aloha Kākou,

Karen Kopera-Frye
Karen Kopera-Frye

Dr. Karen Kopera-Frye has been recommended for approval by President David Lassner as UH Hilo’s dean for the College of Arts and Sciences effective December 28, 2020, following public posting on the September 17 UH Board of Regents meeting agenda.

Dr. Karen Kopera-Frye received her doctor of philosophy in developmental psychology with a minor in clinical psychology from Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan. She began her professional career as a research assistant in fall 1985 and her instructional career in fall 1987 as an instructor. Her administrative career began in September 2010 when she served for two years as interim department head of the Department of Gerontology, Sociology, and Political Science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

Beginning in September 2012, she served as the department head for four years of the newly formed Department of Gerontology, which she was instrumental in relocating to the School of Health Sciences. In September 2016, she began service as associate dean for research and associate dean for academics for the College of Health and Social Sciences at New Mexico State University. She then served as interim department head of the Department of Public of Health Sciences in November 2017 through January 2019.

Dr. Kopera-Frye has an extensive list of refereed publications, newsletter articles, presentations and published abstracts from 1985 through 2019 with numerous refereed publications in progress. She engaged in grant writing with several successfully funded submissions and is especially skilled in obtaining external fiscal resources for programs serving those who are economically disadvantaged.

A heartfelt thank you to Dr. Michael Bitter for serving as interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences through December 23, 2020.

Mahalo to the search committee as well as all of the campus constituents that participated in the process. The investment of your time and attention speaks well of your care for UH Hilo and our future. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Kopera-Frye to our UH Hilo ‘ohana in late fall.

Bonnie D. Irwin


UH Board of Regents confirms Karen Kopera-Frye as new dean of College of Arts and Sciences

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