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Tag: Bonnie Irwin

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Aug. 2019: Good partners are key to success

Last month I spent several days meeting with our state legislators, asking them about current issues in the community and pondering how the university might help address them.

By Bonnie D. Irwin

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

Our primary mission at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is to educate our students and graduate responsible citizens, lifelong learners, and productive employees. Beyond that, we also have talented staff and faculty who contribute greatly to the civic and social fabric of our community, and who can lend their expertise to any number of issues including public health, K-12 education, economic stability, natural disasters, climate change, environmental conservation, sustainable agriculture and more.

Last month I spent several days meeting with our state legislators, asking them about current issues in the community and pondering how the university might help address them.

And I heard about a lot of needs.

Transportation and accessible housing are island-wide concerns, as is health care, including mental health services. General economic development in the form of small businesses, co-ops, and new industries also is of interest.

And while the university alone cannot solve all the issues we face in the state, we can form partnerships around some of the biggest, most urgent needs, and I will be spending the coming weeks learning more about UH Hilo’s capacity to contribute.

I am just learning about our faculty and their areas of applied research, and some of the projects I have seen in this first month have impressed me greatly. Geographer Ryan Perroy is using drones and remote sensing devices to detect Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death; his research just won a prestigious $70k prize for innovative techniques. Infectious disease scientist Susan Jarvi is researching rat lungworm in East Hawai‘i and how we might combat its spread. Faculty and staff at Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language are revitalizing Hawaiian language and culture, providing a shining example of success to other indigenous communities throughout the world.

These projects and the work done by many others from our campus community have demonstrated to me that our faculty and staff have much to offer. And they are lifting up the next generation through our many undergraduate research experiences that give students the opportunity to apply what they are learning in class to real world needs.

I am also excited to learn about Vibrant Hawai‘i, a collective impact movement, from Rachel Solemsaas, chancellor at Hawai‘i Community College. Vibrant Hawai‘i is just taking hold here to address the hardships experienced by breadwinners and families with limited liquid assets such as cash or a savings account. These households are especially vulnerable when faced with emergencies such as a costly auto repair, a natural disaster, or health issues. I have seen the power of collective impact partnerships in California, and I am eager to find out how UH Hilo might engage in this important work to address the needs of our most disadvantaged citizens.

I am also proud to learn that UH Hilo is a designated participant in Blue Zones Hawai‘i, encouraging our campus community to e ola pono. Blue Zones is a nationwide initiative taking place in several states to promote healthy living and long lives. The Blue Zones concept of healthy living is modeled on the best practices of places in the world where people live longer by reaching the age of 100 while enjoying a high quality of life. A number of businesses and organizations are working together in Hilo to create a Blue Zones community by adopting healthy best practices. This collaborative project promotes healthy minds and healthy bodies, and serves as a model for communities throughout the country to follow.

None of these accomplishments at our university is possible without the support of the community. In my July column, I wrote about the campus now working on a collaborative plan to achieve our highest of aspirations in helping the island with its needs—economic, educational, and cultural—while also protecting the ‘āina through sustainable activities. I look forward to learning more about our campus and our surrounding community, and working toward strengthening UH Hilo’s contributions to our island and state’s most urgent needs.

Thank you all for your support.


Bonnie D. Irwin


Photo of UH Hilo University Classroom Building by @bdirwin Instagram.

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Chancellor’s Message regarding Maunakea

Dear UH Hilo ‘Ohana,

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

Since I began at UH Hilo almost three weeks ago, the sense of ‘ohana on our campus has been obvious and one of the reasons I came to UH Hilo is because of this kind, caring atmosphere among ourselves and between faculty/staff and students. Our community has weathered numerous challenges over the years, one of the most recent being last year’s eruption that is still impacting members of our campus ‘ohana, and we continue to pull together and support one another despite our hardships and differences. This is a testament to the care and concern we have for each other.

Today, we face a divisive issue in our community with what is happening on Maunakea. Whether you or members in your families and our community have strong opinions about TMT and Maunakea, and knowing that there is an entire spectrum of ideas, beliefs, and emotions, I encourage us all to promote our campus as a safe space where individuals of our campus ‘ohana are free to learn from one another respectfully and safely, regardless of their views about Maunakea, or any issue, that provides all of us with an opportunity for deeper understanding and respect for difference. I, along with the rest of senior leadership at UH Hilo, believe this is the value of our university and we will continue to support free expression and ask that we all commit to maintaining an environment of respect on our campus. I also ask that each of us remember our role as educators and our shared mission to support our students and their educational journeys while at UH Hilo with the University of Hawai‘i Policy of Free Expression in mind:

The University of Hawai‘i is committed to the free and open exchange of ideas and affirms the rights of members of the university community to engage in speech and other expressive activity guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and by Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution of the State of Hawai‘i. These activities may be conducted at such times and places and in such a manner to assure the orderly conduct and least interference with the University responsibilities as a public institution for higher education and scholarly inquiry.

In addition to ensuring people’s right to free expression and assembly, we also have a collective responsibility to our community and constituents to maintain daily operations, even if some of us may be experiencing conflict with decisions surrounding Maunakea. I encourage engaging in a dialogue with your supervisors should you experience difficulties in fulfilling daily responsibilities, in light of this issue. Employees also have access to the University of Hawai‘i Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which offers counseling support for those facing crises and problems that affect work performance. For more information about the EAP, you may go to the WorkLife Hawaii website or call (808) 543 8445 or toll free at (800) 944-3571. I encourage anyone who wishes to do so to reach out to those services.

I have been talking to campus leadership about how we might best prepare to support our students, regardless of what side of the issue they (or we) may be on. Vice Chancellor Farrah-Marie Gomes’s message to the campus last month contained valuable information about support services for students. As a reminder, if you encounter a UH Hilo student in need of support, you may refer them to Counseling Services, to talk with counseling professionals for free. To make a referral, please visit the Counseling Services website, call 932-7465, or email

As challenging as it may be right now, I ask that you remember the good work we do, the students we serve, and the future which we build together. There are many of you whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting yet and I look forward to doing so over the coming weeks and months as we continue to build together a university and community that will serve Hawai‘i well into the future.




Top photo: View of Maunakea from the UH Hilo campus, Feb. 2019. By Raiatea Arcuri.

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Chancellor at the State Capitol this week

Above: Chancellor Bonnie Irwin with Governor David Ige, Hawai‘i State Capitol, July 11, 2019.

A note from the Chancellor about her week:

One of my priorities is to hear about local issues from our elected officials, and I so I spent much of this week listening to senators and representatives about issues important to their districts and the state so that we can work on partnerships and provide more educational opportunities for our students. I was gladdened by the level of support I heard from the island delegation and the governor for the great work we do here at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

Photo via @bonnieirwin on Twitter.

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Message from the Chancellor: Mahalo for your warm welcome

I look forward to the follow up conversations and actions we will share.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

As I finish my first week as chancellor here at UH Hilo, I have been energized by the warm welcome I have received, and the dedication of our staff and faculty to the success of our students and our institution. I am grateful that so many of you were able to attend the kīpaepae for Marcia and me. It certainly was an experience I will never forget. My mother watched it on live stream, too!

I have been spending my first few days in meetings, as this is what chancellors seem to do more than anything else, but I have also been doing a lot of reading—budgets, reports, evaluations, policies, etc. Perhaps the most important document I have been reading is the Pre-planning Evidence Report for a Future UH Hilo Strategic Plan. Mahalo to everyone who participated in the monthly questions, focus groups and other communications with Kathleen over the last few months. The document is a great portrait of our values, our concerns, and our collective hopes and dreams for the future. I encourage you to read all or part of it as you have time in the coming weeks. I look forward to the follow up conversations and actions we will share.

In fall, we will continue building the future of this great university together.

Best wishes,



Header photo: University Classroom Building, July 4, 2019, via @bonnieirwin on Twitter.

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Chancellor Bonnie Irwin welcomed to UH Hilo with traditional kīpaepae ceremony

The traditional Kīpaepae Ho‘onoho (welcoming ceremony) was held at the UH Hilo campus this morning for Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin. A Kīpaepae Ho‘oku‘u (releasing ceremony) was also performed for Marcia Sakai, who served as interim chancellor since 2017.

Bonnie Irwin and Marcia Sakai
From left, Bonnie Irwin and Marcia Sakai at the traditional Native Hawaiian ceremonies honoring Chancellor Irwin’s arrival and former Interim Chancellor Sakai’s departure.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo community welcomed its new chancellor, Bonnie D. Irwin, to her post as leader of the Hawai‘i Island university on July 2 with a traditional Native Hawaiian appointment ceremony. Irwin officially started her new position yesterday.

“I’m very honored to be here and I’m humbled that I was chosen for this position,” Irwin says. “I see great things in the future for Hilo and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

The Kīpaepae Ho‘onoho (welcoming ceremony) was held on the UH Hilo campus with students, faculty, staff, Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim, Chancellor Irwin’s husband and author Ned Huston, and UH President David Lassner in attendance.

“The kind of education that students can get here is amazing,” Lassner says. “And I don’t know that any other campus has as much impact on its island, its people, its community, its families as UH Hilo. So, this was a wonderful day.”

Read full story at UH Hilo Stories.

From left: Hawaiʻi Island Mayor Harry Kim, UH President David Lassner, former interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai, Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin and her husband, author Ned Huston.
From left: Hawaiʻi Island Mayor Harry Kim, UH President David Lassner, former interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai, Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin and her husband, author Ned Huston. Courtesy photo, click to enlarge.
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