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Tag: Community Outreach

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 Message announcing inaugural UH Hilo alumni newsletter

Pilina masthead with aerial view of campus

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

I am excited to share with you this inaugural University of Hawai‘i at Hilo alumni newsletter, which will allow us to stay in touch, even during these times when we must remain physically distant. I hope you are all staying well and that your families are healthy in these challenging times. You can expect this newsletter twice a year, and we will do our best to let you know of things happening on campus as well as stories about your fellow alumni. If you have something you wish to share, please feel free to get in touch! When it is safe to do so, we will start hosting events again, and we will make sure you hear about opportunities to participate.

Life on campus these days is a little quieter and a little slower, but we still have over 200 students living on campus, and we are holding face-to-face classes for labs and clinical experiences that cannot be duplicated online. Our campus staff, faculty, and students have been vigilant about health and safety protocols, which has allowed us to keep our community relatively safe. When I hear from colleagues about very different circumstances on the continent, I am so grateful that our campus maintains a strong sense of aloha and mālama for one another. This has allowed for some in-person classes to continue and for a limited athletic competition schedule.

More challenging than the pandemic itself has been the subsequent budget restriction that we are preparing for. In July, I convened a budget committee that has been working hard to determine how we will continue to support our students in the best way possible while preserving those aspects of a UH Hilo education that are our hallmarks: ‘āina-based education centered around Hawaiian values and deep concern for our community, and out-of-class applied learning experiences, such as research, community service, and study abroad. Our faculty are in discussions about how to make our programs even more relevant and resonant for our current and future students.

As you know, UH Hilo has a resilient ‘ohana, filled with creative and talented people who care about our students and our community. I am proud of how we have come through the pandemic and I am optimistic about our future. In our next newsletter, we will have an update about strategic planning and the announcement of an alumni advisory board I will be creating to help us continue to thrive.

Mahalo nui loa for all your support,
Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin

Read full newsletter.

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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.


Bonnie D. Irwin

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Message to Faculty and Staff: Annual UH Foundation calling campaign underway

Screenshot of online meeting with student fundraisers.
I had so much fun talking story with the student fundraisers for the UH Foundation annual calling campaign (Oct 14). Lots of good stories to tell about our campus and the educational experiences we provide students! -Chancellor Irwin

Aloha UH Hilo Faculty and Staff,

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

In addition to the Aloha United Way appeal, the annual UH Foundation Fall Calling Campaign has begun. I personally visited via Zoom with the student fundraisers to share information about our various programs and activities here all over Hawai‘i Island.

I would like to take this opportunity to let you know you may receive a call from our UHF students who will begin the call by confirming or asking to update your contact information and then transition to a message of support for our campus initiatives. If you have the capacity, I encourage you to please donate and support. Should you have any questions, please call Dale Hagadone, Director of Annual Giving at the UH Foundation, (808) 956-7357.

Mahalo nui for all you do in support of our students,

Bonnie D. Irwin


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