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Tag: Collaborations & Partnerships

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, Oct. 2019: Time to listen, time to learn

By Bonnie D. Irwin

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.

Farrah-Marie Gomes speaks, holding microphone, people listening seated at tables behind her.
UH Hilo Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Farrah-Marie Gomes shares her mana‘o with the group at the first joint wala‘au or discussion about the future of UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College, Sept. 20, 2019. Photos of wala‘au by Raiatea Arcuri.

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:

  • Meeting the Vulcan Booster Club and seeing their enthusiastic support for our student-athletes
  • Learning about the partnerships our Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science graduate program has with local and state agencies
  • 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.

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Chancellor Irwin featured in Midweek Hawai‘i Island: A Venue For Collegiate Success

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.

Read full article at Midweek Hawai‘i Island.

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Public is invited to attend UH Hilo Strategic Planning Summit, Sept. 25-26, registration now open

Summit participants will discuss the university’s past and future, dreams and actions, possibilities and specifics.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo invites the public to a strategic planning summit to be held Sept. 25-26, 2019. The Seeds of Opportunity Strategic Planning Summit will give members of the general public a chance to share their perspectives and to co-create the future of the university. The summit will be held in the Performing Arts Hall at the Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, 113 Nowelo Street (photo above). The event is free and advance registration is required.

The summit caps the university’s strategic pre-planning stage of collecting information to help inform a new strategic planning process. The conversations at this summit, along with those from a recent listening tour with faculty, staff, students, alumni, community members, and business partners, will help move the university forward into the planning stage.

Summit participants, including faculty, staff, students, alumni, community partners, and guest event facilitators, will discuss the university’s past and future, dreams and actions, possibilities and specifics.

For the summit schedule and to register, see Seeds of Opportunity Strategic Planning website.

For any questions, contact Strategic Planning Project Manager Kathleen Baumgardner.


Related stories:

Listening Tour underway to plan for UH Hilo’s new Strategic Plan

UH Hilo ​Strategic ​Planning​ Listening Tour: Bridging barriers and expanding access through distance learning

UH Hilo ​S​trategic ​P​lanning​ Listening Tour: ​Edwin H. ​Mookini Library​ staff prepares to migrate library management system

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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 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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