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Chancellor’s Remarks at Hawai‘i County Sustainability Summit

Remarks by Bonnie D. Irwin
Chancellor, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo
Education Sector Keynote
Hawai‘i County Sustainability Summit
March 5, 2021

Aloha kakahiaka and welcome to UH Hilo in this virtual space.

Bonnie D. IrwinEarlier this week, I was at a board meeting for a non-profit in the state and we were engaged in a strategic planning exercise that asked us to envision Hawai‘i in 2030. The group was divided between the optimists and the pessimists. Will we be a better, stronger more thriving community or will we see an increase in the various social and economic issues that divide us? And then last night I attended one of our business classes and heard the energy and optimism of students, who were brainstorming alternate use for the UH Hilo Innovation Center downtown. There was so much hope in those discussions! I am in the education business, so I am among the optimists. If we are to thrive as a community, educating and nurturing our youth is the future. Can we overcome differences, heal past and present grievances and work together to build the future those our youth deserve? I believe we can, as I heard many calls to rewrite the narrative, and your very attendance at this event means you share that optimism.

Next month, it will have been 51 years since the first Earth Day was celebrated. Those of us who remember those times, remember the activism around several other issues: civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war. The late sixties and early seventies forever changed the United States. In the wake of that first Earth Day, more schools started teaching students more about ecology, the way in which each species on Earth is interdependent on an entire ecosystem and the way in which human activity can help or harm these ecosystems. Generations of school children became environmentally aware, nagging parents about the need to recycle, compost, buy high mileage vehicles, and myriad other actions that we somewhat take for granted now. The point being that education, what children learn, often drives all of our behavior. As schools began to teach more about ecology in the 70s, students came to colleges and universities with dreams to pursue careers that would help them protect the environment, dreams that we are still working to fulfill. I would not be in the career I am in if I did not believe that education plays a key role in just about everything we do. As I looked over the many types of sustainability listed in the summit program for these two days, I found that every item had some connection to the University of Hawai‘i, many of the items having a connection specifically to the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo or Hawai‘i Community College.

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Feb. 2021: A year to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion

The new strategic plan for UH Hilo will include objectives for strengthening equity, making sure that every student has access to the rich array of opportunities that having a university on this island can provide.

Chancellor Bonnnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

There is no doubt that budget and health matters are taking up a lot of time these days as we prepare for the coming months and years at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, but people across campus are also working on other things that are important to our institution and community.

UH Hilo was once again named by US News & World Report as the most diverse national university in the country. We are rightly proud of that designation and happy that we live in such a richly diverse community, but as we enter Black History Month and ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi Month, we also recognize the need for our university to extend our focus on diversity to include the even more important issues of equity inclusion, and justice. I’d like to share with you some of the ways we are doing that.

The new strategic plan for UH Hilo will include objectives for strengthening equity, making sure that every student has access to the rich array of opportunities that having a university on this island can provide. Many students on our island believe that college or university is not an attainable goal for them; we can certainly do a better job at directing these students toward financial and academic resources. Too often at universities, we wait for students to come to us, to ask the right questions, and to figure out the means to attend. When college-going is new to one’s family, however, the whole process seems mysterious and difficult.

An example of a bright spot on the horizon for these first generation and other hesitant students is that this academic year, the UH System inaugurated the Fast Pass Initiative, where eligible high school seniors received a conditional letter of acceptance from UH Hilo. If they take advantage of this offer, their admission will be expedited without having to go through the entire application process. We hope this will help students from our local communities and across the state to matriculate at UH Hilo where their academic, personal, and professional journey will be our focus.

Because we know some of our policies and processes might be challenging for students to navigate, we will be working with the Lumina Foundation this spring to do an audit of some of these processes with equity in mind. Are we inadvertently discouraging some students from staying on course? Do we make the process of transfer from a UH community college smooth so that students do not lose time in earning a degree? We will learn how we can do better to serve those students who may not have all the advantages coming in the door.

We enter Black History Month with a re-launch of our campus diversity committee, newly named the Committee for Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I am excited to see what kinds of projects and initiatives can come out of this new group and how we may use their expertise to be a better UH Hilo.

A timely development to celebrate during ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi Month is the receipt of an exciting grant awarded to Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language. The college has received a four-year early literacy grant from Hawai‘i P-20 Partnerships for Education based out of UH Mānoa. The grant will create a comprehensive evidence-based early literacy program for children, birth through kindergarten, for a majority of Hawaiian language medium early learners statewide. These literacy efforts should also help more students see college, especially UH, as an attainable goal.

The Hale Kuamo‘o Hawaiian Language Center will oversee the project in conjunction with its partners ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, Ke Kula ‘O Nāwahīokalani‘ōpuʻu Iki Lab Public Charter School, and ‘Aha Pūnana Leo. Year one amount is $228,000.

UH Hilo also sees this project as an additional asset for university students training in our Hawaiian and Indigenous Language Medium Early Education Certificate and Kahuawaiola Indigenous Teacher Education Graduate Program Certificate programs. Currently, Kahuawaiola is the only program approved for the Hawaiian medium preschool license by the Hawai‘i Teacher’s Standards Board.

Opportunities like this make me optimistic for our future. Like many others, I was in awe listening to the young poet Amanda Gorman at the presidential inauguration. I was particularly moved by the last few lines:

The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

As we emerge from Covid times I am filled with hope. Every time I look out and see the sun rise over the ocean here from East Hawai‘i, I think of new beginnings, new opportunities, new hope, and our duty to ensure that each of our students shares those feelings.

Aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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UH Hilo leadership visits Hale Pōhaku and Maunakea facilities

Chancellor Irwin, Vice Chancellor Roney, and Dean Mike were invited up the mountain to brainstorm about how UH Hilo might engage more university departments in learning experiences involving the mauna.

Group stands on lanai. All wear masks.
From left, Ned Huston, Bonnie Irwin, Kris Roney, Rhonda Mike, Jim Mike, Gordon Roney, Larry Kimura, Stewart Hunter (back), and Kekoa Harman. Courtesy photo, click to enlarge.

Leadership at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo on Saturday visited Hale Pōhaku, the mid-level facility on Maunakea also known as the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, to learn more about the operation. The facility has living capacity for up to 72 people working at the summit, as well as a visitor center and other support buildings.

Group stands for photo, each socially distanced from each other.
From left, Robin Hayes, Jim Mike (back), Rhonda Mike (front), Kekoa Harman, Larry Kimura, Stewart Hunter (back), Ned Huston, Bonnie Irwin, Kris Roney and Gordon Roney. Courtesy photo, click to enlarge.

Chancellor Bonnie Irwin, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Kris Roney, Dean of the College of Natural and Health Sciences Jim Mike, and were invited up the mountain to brainstorm about how UH Hilo might engage more university departments in learning experiences involving the mauna. Their spouses, Ned Huston, Gordon Roney, and Rhonda Mike, respectively, were invited to join them.

The day was hosted by Ka‘iu Kimura, director of UH Hilo ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, and Larry Kimura and Kekoa Harman, both associate professors of Hawaiian studies and Hawaiian language at the university, who talked to the group about the cultural significance of the mauna.

The tour started with the Visitor Information Center and surrounding facilities led by Stewart Hunter, general manager of Mauna Kea Support Services. Robin Hayes, food and lodging manager at MKSS also joined the group. The tour then proceeded up to Hale Pōhaku and the potential future site of the UH Hilo teaching telescope.

Group listens to Larry Kimura and Steve Hunter.
Group listens to Larry Kimura and Steve Hunter during tour of the facilities up Maunakea. Courtesy photo, click to enlarge.

Discussions continued after lunch where “we also discussed the work that ‘Imiloa is doing on new information displays for the Visitor Information Center and the work on new orientation programs for employees and visitors,” says Chancellor Irwin.

 

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Jan. 2021: Focusing our attention on students

We look to 2021 and exciting things to come!

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

As I write this, we just concluded the fall semester. Our virtual fall 2020 commencement celebration and the first live drive-through ceremony in the history of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo were a great success. I am incredibly proud of all our graduates and what they accomplished during these truly challenging times. We all need a little celebration in our lives, and these students have earned our praise.

This success would not have been possible without the hard work of our stellar faculty and staff who weathered a difficult semester delivering quality education and services not only to graduates but to all our students. Everyone rose to the challenge, and many faculty new to teaching online spent countless hours in elective training to enhance web-based learning for their students.

Professor of Japanese Yoshiko Okuyama says the university’s moral and financial support for faculty technology training, and assistance from our distance learning team, helped immensely in converting courses into full-fledged online classes. Kris Roney, UH Hilo’s vice chancellor for academic affairs, informed Prof. Okuyama and her colleagues about a six-week program for foreign language teachers run by the Center for Language and Technology based at UH Mānoa. Prof. Okuyama says she seized on the opportunity and completed the training for computer-assisted language instruction.

Professor of Chemistry Norbert Furumo, new to web-based teaching, quickly discovered that the conversion to delivering classes in an online space wasn’t just a major adjustment for students, but for educators, too. As he himself learned about online formats and adjusted his classes, he advised his students to continue to work toward their degrees. “Do not sit out a semester or two because classes are online. Online classes may be around for a while so stay on track to achieve your life’s goals.”

Faculty who had been teaching online for years still had some adjustments to make.

Professor of Psychology Cheryl Ramos, despite her own familiarity with online teaching, kept the new challenges and stresses students now face at the forefront of her planning. “What kind of internet connection do they have? What kind of space and home environment do they have to do work remotely?” Her students felt cared for, keeping burnout and stress at bay.

Many of our professors say that although online classes can be a challenge, silver linings are everywhere. Marine biologist Tim Grabowski sees the inconveniences and discomforts of online learning as an opportunity for future conservation biologists to train for global teleconferencing and collaboration. Language faculty Monica Minnitt and Faith Mishima see opportunities to invest in our students in new and exciting ways, “being more merciful but not lenient, more understanding but also more involved.”

This can-do spirit and determination are what got us through the pandemic thus far, and will see us through the next semester, too. So now we look to 2021 and exciting things to come. Here are examples.

UH Hilo Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center received a new Title III Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions grant that will support retention and graduation rates, allowing us to continue to enhance our support of Native Hawaiian students. The UH Hilo Student Support Services Program received another U.S. Department of Education TRIO grant award that will allow the program to continue providing services to low income and first generation UH Hilo students for another five years. These efforts support students staying on course and getting closer to the goal of graduation.

Looking to boost our island’s economic recovery, the College of Business and Economics is offering three courses this semester geared toward executive education. The courses are on real estate investment, career exploration in management, and digital business development and marketing. Each course draws on the college’s particular pool of expertise and is geared toward managerial or executive level students who are likely to have college degrees already.

Our data visualization projects continue, one of which has master printmaker Jon Goebel and marine scientist John Burns teamed up to create an enlarged 3D sculpture of a coral colony. The project is meant to spark a perceptual shift in viewers about the significance that corals play in the ocean’s ecosystem. The project is but one of many we hope will come out of our data science team, who are also in the process of developing a new major for students to learn important skills in big data that are behind so much of what we do today, whether it be in science, business, or health care.

UH Hilo is an ideal place for interdisciplinary teams like this to come together to address the big issues, and I am confident that we will be able to continue to serve our island and see more happy graduates in the years to come.

I wish you all a happy and safe new year!

Aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Nov. 2020: In appreciation

A message of thanks to everyone for all your hard work in making UH Hilo an excellent university ready to meet our students’ needs in these challenging times.

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

In this month’s column I’d like to express my sincere appreciation to some of the heroes at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and throughout the community who have stepped up during this challenging time.

There are the unsung heroes, the staff of UH Hilo, who are stepping up in countless ways to support our students and institution. From those on the front lines to those adapting to work from home, and everyone in between on hybrid schedules, you are the heart and soul of the university, keeping everything running smoothly and efficiently despite all the challenges at hand. I am especially grateful for the care and attention given to our students, making sure they are on track with their studies and staying safe while being physically and mentally active at their studies, work, and play.

Deep appreciation to our faculty for applying their ingenuity and dedication to students to provide the best experience possible. Everyone has stepped up beautifully to online teaching, and our students are excelling. Many in the faculty had to learn new technology and then figure out logistics to recreate the classroom experience as closely as possible. Through this resourcefulness, many have discovered unexpected benefits to online teaching such as higher attendance and engagement, and more options for one-on-one and group discussions resulting in quicker learning. I applaud you all.

Thank you to our students (and their families), who, despite all the unknowns, continue to trust us with their education and personal/professional development. I am impressed with and grateful for the level of responsibility and sincerity with which our students, new and returning, have risen to the task of covid safety and online learning. I give thanks to the parents who trusted us to support their children academically and personally once they left their family home. Yes, we are all one ‘ohana with a common goal of supporting one another in these tough times.

A big mahalo to our donors, who continue to invest in our success. From local business people to our alumni, donors care deeply about the need to give access to as many students as possible; they know we need to do everything we can to give all qualified students access to the funds they need to attend the university. Behind every scholarship is an individual, foundation, or company with a connection to UH Hilo and a desire to help our students as an investment in the future of our island and state. Thank you all for your generosity.

I want to give additional thanks to our alumni, not just for the donations that help us achieve our goals in education, research, and community service, but for being out there thriving with productive lives and career paths. Our appreciation runs deep for all you give to our island, our state, and region. And to those of you far away, we know you are spreading the aloha spirit, the UH Hilo spirit, everywhere you go. Alumni, from famous to under-the-radar, are inspiring our current students to push through any challenges to complete and receive their degree. I mua!

Before closing, I’d like to add a debt of gratitude to our fellow schools and agencies without which we would not be able to meet our own goals. Hawai‘i Community College continues to partner with us in providing higher education for our island. Our other community college partners and friends throughout the state work with us closely toward the economic health and wellbeing of our island. The Department of Education and Kamehameha Schools both have ongoing partnerships with us, laying the strong educational foundation for the students who enroll in our programs. And I send a special thank you to the people at Vibrant Hawai‘i for pulling together all the threads of our communities into a cohesive vision for the future of Hawai‘i Island.

In closing, let me say that in our placed-based culture of Hawai‘i Island, there can be no more fundamental expression of gratitude than for our surrounding community and the ‘āina itself in which we all thrive. UH Hilo quite literally would not exist without our culturally diverse, strong, resilient, and supportive community that’s nestled into and flourishing in one of the most geographically diverse places on the planet. I feel enormous gratitude for this amazing place, the people and the ‘āina.

Thank you all for your hard work in making UH Hilo an excellent university ready to meet our students’ needs in these challenging times.

Aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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