We have received valuable suggestions for and insight about our campus Strategic Plan draft. Mahalo! Please continue to send us your comments through June 15.
Sections of this plan were drafted by incorporating contributions received throughout this process including our University forums, many small group discussions, Summit, survey responses, and emails. Pre-planning evidence and analysis is available online in several reports. As suggestions received were incorporated and shared, it was often expressed that contributing to a formatted draft of all of the sections was preferred. Our “behind-the-scenes” team converted those sections practically overnight into the beautiful document shared with campus last week.
An unfortunate consequence has been the perception that the plan is complete. This Strategic Plan draft continues to be a work in progress. The team has made accessing this draft and providing feedback even easier through the Strategic Planning website. Two feedback options are also accessible from this website.
The next piece of the strategic plan, a draft of the initial Action Plan, will be shared for comments soon. A working draft of the initial strategies relative to our goals outlined in the Strategic Plan was shared prior to and discussed during the April University Forums. An updated list of those initial strategies is in the works for additional feedback. Many are anxious to delve down to measurable actions for the strategies. We are almost there!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Goals in the age of COVID and beyond: Student-centeredness, stewardship, resiliency, resourcefulness.
Way back in March, I had planned a “State of the University” address to the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo campus. COVID came roaring in, plans were changed, but as I reflect on what I was going to say, I had four main goals to share with our campus and broader community:
Becoming a truly student-centered campus
Becoming better stewards of our region and our island
Building a resilient campus community
Becoming more creative and resourceful in addressing the first three things.
The COVID crisis has only heightened the need for all of these goals and has made the fourth one—creativity and resourcefulness—more urgent than ever. The state and thus the university have some serious budget issues to address, and none of us really know yet what the “new normal” will look like for our society. We have learned that we can be flexible, that we can make dramatic changes in the course of a week, and that we can support our students through it all.
As a state institution, we will always find ourselves stretched thin. Grant funding rises and falls. Determining the difference between what we need and what we want and making sure we always support what is essential will be a permanent part of our operation. But UH Hilo has proven time and time again that it can do more with less. We can be resilient when we need to be, but if we are resourceful, we can ease up from time to time. With whom can we partner in Hilo, across the island and state, and in the Pacific region? What are we doing that will attract more students, donors and partners?
Collaboration across the boundaries of divisions (academic, student affairs, administration) is key here. We have so many pockets of success, but if we are to truly succeed as an institution, we need to be intentional about how we partner, with whom we partner. And sometimes that even means saying “no” to a great opportunity because it may distract us from our core mission. Sometimes resourcefulness includes deciding what we are going to stop doing to make space for something more important. Being thoughtful about our choices and enthusiastic about our potential will help us navigate the future with confidence. Searches for permanent leadership in some of the units are underway and many are reaching completion; candidates remain excited to join our community and engage with us in the challenges ahead.
I look forward to working with these new members of our team as well as our veteran employees to make UH Hilo a stronger university. Our “strategic doing” committees are about to launch, and I am excited to see what ideas they develop for our future. While the formal teams are small, they will be reaching out to engage colleagues across campus and in the community. They will help us become not only an institution of learning, but also a learning institution; we need to assess our systems, our processes, and our decision making often to ensure we are on the right track and doing our best to succeed.
While the present has so many unknowns, I take comfort in the fact that the core mission of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo—to challenge students to reach their highest level of academic achievement by inspiring learning, discovery and creativity inside and outside the classroom—remains strong and relevant, as does our kuleana to improve the quality of life of the people of Hawai‘i, the Pacific region, and the world.
Bonnie D. Irwin
Photo at top: A close-up of the wall wrap in Mookini Library’s lobby. The design, created by UH Hilo graphic designer Tanya Ibarra, shows UH Hilo’s Mission Statement overlaid on print of ‘ōhi‘a blossoms. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri.
The last UH Hilo Strategic Plan guided our efforts in student success, diversity, research, and community collaboration. But the work of bettering ourselves and our campus is not over; hence the strategic doing initiative that we begin now.
Preparation is well underway in developing a new Strategic Plan at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. As we prepare to launch our “Strategic Doing Initiative” that will lay out new long-term goal areas for the campus and identify priorities for action, it pays to reflect on our previous strategic plan and how far we have come over the last decade, despite the many challenges faced as a campus and community.
Too often strategic plans are put on a shelf or posted on a website and forgotten, but just because we may not be able to rattle off all the goals and objectives in the last plan, it does not mean that plan has not guided our efforts in student success, diversity, research, and community collaboration.
Let me share a few examples of our progress.
Place-based learning experiences
One of our main goals is to provide learning experiences and support to prepare students to thrive, compete, innovate, and lead in their professional and personal lives. We are making good progress in this area.
Our students are doing their studies in a culturally, economically, socially, and geographically diverse place, the perfect preparation for being productive citizens in a global community. Anchoring this diversity is the recognition that an important knowledge base resides in the indigenous people of Hawai‘i—a concept now policy for the UH System.
It is from this foundation of diversity and Native Hawaiian ways-of-knowing that UH Hilo now grows, and you can see it in new programs.
For example, the kinesiology and exercise sciences program just won a national award for inclusive excellence and diversity; the nursing program has a strong transcultural component; medical anthropology focuses on effects of globalization on health disparities; and programs in sustainable agriculture and environmental science have strong Native Hawaiian influence. These programs and more are building relevant intellectual capital for our region to address the challenges of a diverse population and fragile environment. Our graduates are prepared to lead the way.
Another goal, aimed to foster a vibrant and sustainable environment in which to study, work and live, has also made great strides.
I’d also like to highlight the good progress we’ve made in the goal that addresses our impact on the community, island, and state through responsive higher education, community partnerships, and knowledge and technology transfer.
We work with and provide technology, expertise, and research data to many government agencies—County of Hawai‘i, National Park Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service, to name a few—in tackling local environmental problems such as lava flows, soil erosion, and Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death.
On campus, the tenants at UH Hilo University Park of Science and Technology help advance our entire community through partnerships between the university and public and private organizations. UH Hilo also now partners extensively with Hawai‘i Community College, sharing resources, facilities, services, pipelines for transfer, Hawaiian protocol development, and expertise.
Of course, the work of bettering ourselves and our campus is not over; hence the strategic doing initiative that we begin now. What we value remains constant: creating environments in which students will thrive and succeed; bettering our local community, island and state through our research and community outreach; and, fostering a respectful and supportive workplace for our staff and faculty.
Bonnie D. Irwin
Feature image at top of post is of painting, “Voyage of the Navigator,” by Clayton Young (11X14, 2013), courtesy of ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.
The next year promises to be a busy and exciting one, a time for collaborating more with one another and with the local community to move our university into the future.
Aloha and Happy New Year!
The spring semester will be a busy one at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo: we will be working on searches to stabilize our administrative staff and we will be moving into the planning stages of our new strategic plan.
Four major searches will be underway soon: a permanent vice chancellor for academic affairs, deans for the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Natural and Health Sciences, and also a dean of students. All of these positions will bring us increased stability and help us to improve our support for students.
This month we welcome on board a new director of institutional research, thereby doubling our staff in this area! I am pleased to announce the appointment of Bradley Thiessen, Ph.D., as our new director of institutional research effective Jan. 2. Dr. Thiessen has over fifteen years’ experience in higher education. He has established offices of institutional research twice in his career and has led institutional assessment efforts at three different institutions. He also has served as a faculty member in statistics, earning tenure at two institutions and advancing to the rank of professor in 2014.
Brad’s extensive background and experience will be extremely valuable to our university as we move UH Hilo into the future. This is especially important this year, as we move from the pre-planning stage to the planning stage of our new strategic plan. We’re going to move forward driven by our values—notably diversity and collaboration—but also informed by data. And Brad will be instrumental in analyzing the data to identify emerging trends and prioritizing goals and tactics.
Too often strategic plans remain merely plans, sitting on a shelf or posted on a website and soon forgotten. For that reason, in addition to building on our foundation blocks of values and data, the new UH Hilo plan will be organized around “strategic doing,” the process of collaborative, action-oriented planning that moves us toward measurable outcomes, all the while making necessary adjustments along the way.
Further, and perhaps most importantly, the main areas of focus will be on people, namely our students, and in our sense of place, meaning that strong identity we share with our local community and our island home. In other words, our students and the incredible place in which we live will be at the center of everything we do in the strategic planning process.
The plan will also be informed by the many conversations that have taken place over the last year or so—the listening tour headed by our strategic planning project manager Kathleen Baumgardner. The listening tour was a series of meetings with various stakeholder groups from across and beyond campus, with sessions that engaged people with diverse perspectives, and encouraged robust conversations that sparked fresh ideas.
In addition, the plan will be informed by what I have learned on my own listening tour, which I began as soon as I arrived in July and will continue through at least February. What I have learned so far:
Almost every promising practice regarding student success exists somewhere on our campus, but few of them are institutionalized.
Everyone at UH Hilo genuinely cares about students, even if we practice that care in different ways.
There are many good ideas on how we might improve what we do.
There is a craving among people to find ways to work together, across the boundaries of academic disciplines and across the divisions of the campus.
Our common ground is larger than our differences.
The biggest challenge may not be what we do next, but what we stop doing in order to free up some time and energy for the initiatives we want to undertake.
The next year promises to be a busy and exciting one, a time for us to take stock, gather and analyze the data, connect with one another in meaningful dialogue, and to think of innovative ways to collaborate more with one another and with the local community to move our university into the future.
I wish you all a Happy New Year. Be well, stay safe, and do good work in the world.
Bonnie D. Irwin
Header photo: Flowering tree on the UH Hilo campus. Photo credit: Raiatea Arcuri.