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.
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.
Bonnie Irwin’s first priority is the UH Hilo students. While improving graduation rates is one measure, she wants to create successful, productive members of the community.
Bonnie D. Irwin took the reigns of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo as chancellor on July 1, 2019, amid a traditional Hawaiian appointment ceremony that included the blowing of pū (shell), hula and an offering of special water.
“I find that spirit in Hawai‘i to be so powerful—the idea of ‘ohana, of community and that everyone is interconnected,“ Irwin says. ”It’s a great way to help students so they feel that they are nurtured. They are part of something bigger than themselves, as we all are.”
“The dedication to this place that we have all chosen to be our home is the strength of this community and, I believe, the way forward for the future of Hilo and Hawai‘i,” Irwin writes in a recent column. “I am looking forward to creating opportunities for the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo to partner with businesses, schools and community groups across the island to further improve our home and, above all, to provide the best experience for our students that we can.”
UH Hilo worked on a new strategic plan last year. Irwin says this year the university will implement that plan, asking, “How can we focus the immense goodwill and skills and ability of this campus and its community to move the institution forward?”
Her first priority is the UH Hilo students. While improving graduation rates is one measure, she wants to create successful, productive members of the community.
“We have a lot of people that I think the university could help to a greater extent than it is now, and part of being a regional comprehensive university is helping the region move forward as well,” she says.
Irwin has more than 30 years of experience in higher education, and last served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB). She sees similarities with her former students. About 40 percent of CSUMB’s students were Latino, most of whom were bilingual. At UH Hilo, there are bilingual students who speak Hawaiian at home, which she sees as an asset.
Student success leads to family success and helps the whole community to move forward. “I see [education] as a sacred mission,” Irwin says. “I love working in higher education because we get to transform students’ lives.”
I look forward to the follow up conversations and actions we will share.
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
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.
As I begin my tenure as chancellor at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, I find a campus community hard at work preparing to develop a new strategic plan. Through a series of over 40 discussions that began last fall with faculty, staff, students and the local community, information is being gleaned and groundwork laid to produce a collaborative plan to achieve the highest of aspirations.
My favorite definition of leadership is that it is a process of moving an organization from its current reality to its aspirations. My first task at UH Hilo is to listen and learn what the campus and community aspirations are and then focus our energy toward achieving them, all the while making sure we are ambitious enough in those aspirations to really help the island with its needs—economic, educational, and cultural—while also protecting the ‘āina through sustainable activities.
I take this responsibility to heart. I strongly believe in the concept of regional stewardship for comprehensive universities: i.e., that a primary mission of our campus is to lift up the region, in this case Hawai‘i Island. One of the reasons I wanted to come to UH Hilo is because of our unique cultural emphasis in programs and curriculum, notably the acclaimed work being done to revitalize Native Hawaiian language and culture for the benefit of not only Hawai‘i’s indigenous people but also everyone in the state. The future of our university and our local community are inextricably linked.
Let me share some thoughts about where my attention is already focused.
I envision UH Hilo as a gateway for upward mobility. This means educating and preparing our students for meaningful employment that not only brings them a high quality of life but also lifts up their families and communities. One effective way to prepare students for important regional work is to increase student engagement in applied learning and independent research for benefit of the community and the environment; UH Hilo already excels at this in several fields and I would like to explore ways to open up this opportunity to even more students.
Traditionally we think of higher education as preparing young women and men for their future, but national trends are moving toward developing a new higher education model that also meets the needs of non-traditional students returning to finish a degree. This is a challenge facing universities throughout the country and if we want to stay current, we will need to adapt to this emerging trend not only to properly serve our region but also to thrive as an institution of higher education.
Woven into advancing the university to meet the needs of a modern student population is the challenge to improve retention and graduation rates. I support wholeheartedly the current ongoing efforts at UH Hilo to develop best practices to enable students to pursue their aspirations with purpose and confidence through to graduation and beyond, whether the student wishes to further her or his education or launch a meaningful career. I look forward to working with faculty and student affairs professionals to develop and strengthen innovative and effective ways to meet this challenge.
I am pleased to see UH Hilo placing a high importance on practicing, teaching, and researching sustainability and protecting the ‘āina, both on campus and in our island environment. Every student has a role to play—now and in the future—to help heal the emerging environmental crises facing our island, state, and Pacific region, and the university community and our graduates should be leaders and role models in this field.
We cannot achieve our aspirations alone. Building on partnerships with the local community, government agencies, and non-profit organizations, along with strengthening UH Hilo’s relationship with Hawai‘i Community College and partnering more with the Pālamanui campus, are crucial to all our success.
It is the university’s responsibility to take the lead in stewardship of regional economics, education, and improving the quality of life for all our island citizens and their communities. I start my new position as a chancellor ready to listen, learn, and collaborate as we prepare a new strategic plan for the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.
Bonnie D. Irwin
Photo at top by Raiatea Arcuri: UH Hilo main entrance at West Kāwili Street.