Jun 012017

It was a beautiful Spring Commencement celebrating cultural heritage, sustainability, and diversity, reaffirming our responsibilities in addressing the challenges of our time.

By Don Straney.

Professor places hood on graduate's shoulders.

Prof. of Anthropology Peter Mills (right) bestows candidate with hood for Master of Arts in Heritage Management. 2017 Spring Commencement celebrated the first cohort to graduate from the new UH Hilo program.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo celebrated a milestone at Spring Commencement last month: the university graduated its first candidates for a Master of Arts in Heritage Management.

Students in the new program train for heritage-related careers in both the public and private sector to interpret, preserve, and perpetuate cultural heritage—something of immense value to our local communities and indigenous culture.

UH Hilo takes seriously its responsibility to our island communities and indigenous culture, and community-based archaeology is a vital aspect of Hawaiian cultural revitalization.

In a paper on the importance of cultural resource management professionals, Peter Mills, professor of anthropology, writes that Hawai‘i struggles with many issues confronting heritage management programs globally. Grass roots efforts to better manage Hawaiian cultural sites are increasing, and state regulations require cultural resource managers to have an advanced degree—yet graduate training in anthropology and related fields in Hawai‘i is limited.

Let me share a story of one of the graduates to show the importance of this degree to our island families and communities.

Lokelani Brandt with baby

Lokelani Brandt

Lokelani Brandt received her bachelor of arts in anthropology with a minor in Hawaiian studies from UH Hilo in 2012 after receiving her primary education at Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u Hawaiian immersion school. She and her husband both have careers in Hilo (Lokelani is a lecturer for the Hawai‘i Life Styles Program at Hawai‘i Community College) and they would like to raise their family here.

With her newly received master of arts degree, Lokelani has accepted a full-time position in Hilo with ASM Affiliates, a major archaeological consulting firm. With her advanced degree in hand, she will be qualified to serve as a principal investigator on ASM’s field projects.

This type of career option will be very meaningful to many of our undergraduate students of Native Hawaiian ancestry—there is now an option to pursue professional leadership positions in archaeology and related fields rather than only volunteering for grass-roots organizations.

As Peter writes: “A shift in perspective is required, for example instead of viewing and interpreting ‘archaeological sites’ as significant only for their data, these cultural sites should be viewed as vital parts of a living Hawaiian culture.”

Watching these graduates at Commencement during the traditional “hooding” ceremony was a moving experience, knowing that the cohort will be going out into the world as professionals now credentialed to help preserve “a living Hawaiian culture.”


Along with UH Hilo’s responsibility to protect our islands’ cultural heritage, the university also accepts responsibility—given our location and resources—to learn with and from other island nations in the Pacific region. Our keynote speaker was President Tommy Esang Remengesau, Jr, of the Republic of Palau, an internationally recognized leader on environmental issues not the least of which is his leadership in the historic effort to implement the Palau National Marine Sanctuary.

President Remengesau’s remarks focused on the responsibilities we all share in taking care of our island states, communities, and environment. This great man practices what he preachers—his work and visionary leadership is inspirational as we proceed in working together on the challenges of our time: sustainability, environmental protection and cultural preservation.

In addition to these responsibilities, the university also remains committed to safeguarding human rights, notably the rights of our LGBTQ+ community.

Our student speaker at commencement, Karla Kapo‘aiola Ahn, a performing arts major and entertainer who often performs music on campus, spoke about her gender transition and about how UH Hilo—in particular Professor of Drama Jackie Johnson, just retired—provided the unconditional support she needed to realize her full potential in her studies and in her life while at the university.

Karla personifies our pride in being the nation’s most diverse university system. We live the aloha spirit.

It was a beautiful Commencement celebrating cultural heritage, sustainability, and diversity, reaffirming our responsibilities in addressing the challenges of our time.


Don Straney

May 192017
Tam Vu

Tam Vu

Tam Vu, professor of economics, will serve as interim dean of the College of Business and Economics at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo beginning June 17, 2017. Matt Platz, vice chancellor for academic affairs, made the announcement today in an email to the UH Hilo community. He says a national search for a permanent dean of the college will soon be launched.

“Prof. Vu has demonstrated herself to be a staunch advocate for students and the university community,” says Platz in the announcement. “She is adept to working with multiple constituencies on campus and has nurtured relationships with the community.”

Prof. Vu received her master of arts in economics and doctor of philosophy in macroeconomics from UH Mānoa. She was appointed as an assistant professor of economics at UH Hilo in 2006. In 2011, she was promoted to associate professor, and in 2015 achieved the rank of professor. She is also a graduate cooperating faculty at UH Mānoa.

At UH Hilo, Vu has served as a department chair, chair of the Program Review Subcommittee for the Graduate Council, chair of the Instructional Technology Subcommittee for the UH Hilo Long Range Budget Committee, chair of the Faculty Congress Budget Committee, interim director of the Master in China-US Relations Program, and numerous other services to the university.

Prof. Vu has also been the recipient of several research travel grants and was nominated for the Board of Regents Excellence in Teaching Award in 2014. Vu’s scholarly activity includes more than 30 refereed journal publications in the past ten years, multiple books and presentations, both national and international.

May 032017
Ken Hon

Ken Hon in the field.

University of Hawaii at Hilo Chancellor Don Straney announced today Ken Hon, professor of geology, has accepted the offer to serve as interim vice chancellor for academic affairs effective July 1, 2017. He will be replacing Vice Chancellor Matt Platz, who previously announced his intention to return to the classroom in August, while a search is conducted for a permanent vice chancellor.

The appointment will be posted on the UH Board of Regents agenda later this month.

Hon has served as a faculty member at UH Hilo since 1997.

“His knowledge of the university and experience on the Research Council give him a campus-wide perspective, which is important for this position,” says Chancellor Straney today in an email announcement to the university community.

Vice Chancellor Platz will work with Professor Hon this summer to ensure the Office of Academic Affairs is prepared for the start of the new academic year.


May 012017

Thank you again for all you do to prepare our students to become tomorrow’s leaders.

As another academic year comes to a close, I’d like to take this opportunity to personally thank all of you, our faculty and staff. These last few weeks are always a period of transition, but what makes UH Hilo so special is the hard work and dedication each of you put in throughout the entire year to help our students succeed.

In just a few days we will mark another successful year as we present our year-end awards, recognize years of service, and pass along our best wishes to our friends and colleagues who are retiring or moving on to other pursuits. Later, we will gather for spring commencement to celebrate the accomplishments of our students, which goes to the very heart of our mission, and recognize three faculty members for teaching excellence. These events are a timely reminder that our accomplishments are the product of an outstanding team effort. Thank you again for all you do to prepare our students to become tomorrow’s leaders.

Have a safe, happy and productive summer.

Don Straney

-via May issue of the Ka Lono Hanakahi, UH Hilo’s faculty/staff newsletter.

Apr 142017

From the Chancellor, published in Their Views for April 13, Hawaii Tribune Herald.

I thought it was important to respond to Bart Wright’s column on Monday (Tribune-Herald, B1) about the University of Hawaii at Hilo Athletic Department that focused on recent staff turnover. Whenever there is a time of transition, it can lead to concern about change, and that is understandable.

The column notes that a number of individuals left the department for a variety of reasons. Three left for personal reasons, as happens with other organizations and entities in East Hawaii. Another three left to accept positions at Division I schools. This speaks positively about our athletics program: working here can help advance people’s careers. I am pleased these people succeeded as much as I regret losing them.

It is disappointing that the column speculated that UH-Hilo Athletic Director Pat Guillen’s mainland origin and management style are responsible for the staff changes. Pat has proven to be a tireless worker dedicated to our university, the athletic department and our community. I feel he has truly embraced Hawaii’s culture, values and people. His recent report to the Board of Regents was received very positively, along with the news that UH-Hilo athletics is in the black. He continues to have my full confidence — as do his staff and coaches.

Pat and his staff and coaches are working to improve UH-Hilo athletics. I thank everyone for the amazing support of our athletic department, and hope you can continue to support UH-Hilo athletics so it can be the very best for our student athletes and our community.

Go Vulcans!

Don Straney

Chancellor, UH-Hilo