Chancellor Bonnie Irwin’s first Brown Bag gathering, originally set for Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in room 127 at the University Classroom Building. Bring your lunch for an informal “talk story” gathering.
When I first visited the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo nearly a year ago for my interview, I was asked what I might do in the first six months, and my response was, “listen.” In the months since I arrived, I have had the opportunity to meet with some business leaders and community groups, and with the arrival of the faculty back on campus, I have started visiting the various units on campus as well. There are so many good ideas and so many people of good will. My “listening tour” will take months to complete, but I’d like to share a recent event with you that shows so well the collaborative spirit of our campus ‘ohana.
On Sept. 20, Hawai‘i Community College Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas hosted me and others from UH Hilo for a joint wala‘au or discussion about the future of our campuses (photo of us at wala‘au at top of this column). Faculty, staff, and administrators from both campuses were invited to share their mana‘o and their vision of the future for Hawai‘i Island’s students, particularly transfer students. Specifically, we focused on ways to build strong pathways of student success between Hawai‘i CC and UH Hilo.
Over soup and sandwiches, we discussed strategies to smooth the way for students interested in transferring from Hawai‘i CC to UH Hilo. It was an exciting session filled with hope for the future of our students and Hawai‘i Island.
People shared examples of what is working, and some shared stories about successful classes and spaces, and about hardworking support staff helping students struggling with the transition.
We also identified areas still to work on: aligning curriculum and our learning expectations, so that students who move from one institution to the other do not lose any time toward completing their degree; minimizing the paperwork for transfers, and even better, imagining what dual enrollment might look like. What if a student could be admitted to both schools at the same time and just move seamlessly from one to the next at the appropriate time? Indeed, when we took a poll among those in attendance, “seamless” was the word most often mentioned as what we would like the students to experience as a successful transfer.
Some of the people at the wala‘au shared programs they were working on that might accomplish that seamless transition. The energy and good will in the room was palpable. I met faculty and staff who have worked at both campuses, and they shared what they thought we could improve, and along with the two chancellors and our teams, committed to working together in the future.
Other highlights from the listening tour thus far:
Sitting down with our marketing committee to chat about how we can better tell the story of UH Hilo
An open meeting with students in which I could hear their concerns directly
Talking with staff of the Division of Student Affairs and learning how we can build on the excellent programs we have and build even better support for our students outside the classroom
Touring Hale‘olelo, the College of Hawaiian Language, and seeing the ways in which we are helping to revitalize Hawaiian language and culture
And many other meetings with faculty and staff from departments throughout campus
At the core of these meetings and discussions I consistently find in people a deep sense of commitment and dedication to our students and a feeling of hope for the future. I want to thank each and every one of you for your support of our students and for constantly striving to improve our services, curriculum, and community outreach. We need to be open minded about how we deliver education and I look forward to more discussions, more sharing, and more learning over the coming months.
Bonnie D. Irwin
Photo at top, from left, Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas and Chancellor Bonnie Irwin at wala‘au, Sept. 20. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri.
Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin is featured in Midweek Hawai‘i Island this week.
When University of Hawai‘i at Hilo students returned to campus last week, there was a new face waiting to greet them. Bonnie Irwin, who began her tenure as the university’s chancellor on July 1, has big plans for the small-town university.
“I have spent most of my life in smaller communities,” says Irwin, who previously was provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University, Monterey Bay.
“While I have a lot to learn about the diverse cultures that make up Hilo and Hawai‘i Island, I know a lot about small towns and small campuses. Relationships matter. I am committed to transparency in the way we operate, consultation with faculty and staff about how we do what we do, and empowering others to grow and become leaders themselves.”
Regional universities in small communities have a greater impact on the local area than the bigger research universities, says Irwin, who has more than 30 years of experience in higher education, including positions at University of California, Berkeley, and Eastern Illinois University. Irwin continues to seek out opportunities in places where she feels she can make the greatest difference.
The opening week of the fall semester is here! It’s second only to commencement week in its level of activity, enthusiasm, and hope for the future. Students are arriving to the campus of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo from across the state, nation, and the world as well as from down the street. UH Hilo rightly prides itself on the wide diversity of ethnic and cultural origins of our students. Indeed, The Chronicle of Higher Educationranked us last year as the most diverse public four-year university in the country.
Yet there is still one over-arching thing all these students have in common: the desire to better themselves and to provide a bright future for themselves and their families. And that is the magic of higher education when we are successful at it; we open the door to opportunity for individuals, families, and communities.
The UH Hilo Student Success Leadership Team has been hard at work both on recruiting students and keeping them here. We have bold goals for student success, and I am pleased to see so many good initiatives underway. We are continuing to work on pathways for students from UH community colleges into UH Hilo baccalaureate programs. We are creating more organized and intentional opportunities for community service and community-based research projects for our students. We are trying to expand employment opportunities for students on campus, so they can hone their job skills and build their resumés while helping their peers succeed.
Our new students were so excited to participate in First-Year Experience activities during Orientation last month. The campus community welcomed our newest Vulcans warmly with four days of activities—workshops, fairs, tours, shuttles, various socials, and a beautiful convocation ceremony—introducing them to our university and our community. The enthusiasm was palpable and I was honored to participate. Students are excited to be in college, excited to be at UH Hilo, and of course, a bit anxious about life at the university and how it might differ from the high school or community college they have come from.
We are also focusing on activities for continuing students: research experiences, internships, community service, study abroad. All of these provide valuable opportunities for students to apply what they are learning in class to real world situations. One of my goals for UH Hilo is to provide more of these opportunities for more students, so that they are competitive for good jobs and good graduate schools. At UH Hilo, they get the one-on-one attention that really enhances their learning, something larger schools cannot compete with.
Woven into all of this activity is a feeling of ‘ohana; our campus is relationship driven. We create lasting bonds and friendships among our students and between our students and members of the entire campus community, including faculty and staff, relationships that take them forward into life with the full support they need to succeed.
Thank you all for your support of our students! I am looking forward to the coming year.
Bonnie D. Irwin
Photo: New Vulcans on the Campus Center Plaza for the start of UH Hilo Student Orientation activities on Wednesday, Aug. 21. Nyssa Kushi, University Relations.
Bonnie Irwin’s first priority is the UH Hilo students. While improving graduation rates is one measure, she wants to create successful, productive members of the community.
Bonnie D. Irwin took the reigns of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo as chancellor on July 1, 2019, amid a traditional Hawaiian appointment ceremony that included the blowing of pū (shell), hula and an offering of special water.
“I find that spirit in Hawai‘i to be so powerful—the idea of ‘ohana, of community and that everyone is interconnected,“ Irwin says. ”It’s a great way to help students so they feel that they are nurtured. They are part of something bigger than themselves, as we all are.”
“The dedication to this place that we have all chosen to be our home is the strength of this community and, I believe, the way forward for the future of Hilo and Hawai‘i,” Irwin writes in a recent column. “I am looking forward to creating opportunities for the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo to partner with businesses, schools and community groups across the island to further improve our home and, above all, to provide the best experience for our students that we can.”
UH Hilo worked on a new strategic plan last year. Irwin says this year the university will implement that plan, asking, “How can we focus the immense goodwill and skills and ability of this campus and its community to move the institution forward?”
Her first priority is the UH Hilo students. While improving graduation rates is one measure, she wants to create successful, productive members of the community.
“We have a lot of people that I think the university could help to a greater extent than it is now, and part of being a regional comprehensive university is helping the region move forward as well,” she says.
Irwin has more than 30 years of experience in higher education, and last served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB). She sees similarities with her former students. About 40 percent of CSUMB’s students were Latino, most of whom were bilingual. At UH Hilo, there are bilingual students who speak Hawaiian at home, which she sees as an asset.
Student success leads to family success and helps the whole community to move forward. “I see [education] as a sacred mission,” Irwin says. “I love working in higher education because we get to transform students’ lives.”