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Tag: UH Hilo Community

Chancellor’s Monthly Column, June 2020: Goals in the age of COVID and beyond

Goals in the age of COVID and beyond: Student-centeredness, stewardship, resiliency, resourcefulness.

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

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:

  1. Becoming a truly student-centered campus
  2. Becoming better stewards of our region and our island
  3. Building a resilient campus community
  4. 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.

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Chancellor’s message on racial and social injustice

At UH Hilo, we will continue to live up to our responsibility as one of the most diverse universities in the nation by making that designation mean something, as we continue to spread aloha into our community and beyond. We will continue to combat systemic racism.

Dear UH Hilo ‘Ohana,

UH Hilo seal, red lettering University of Hawaii and the state motto.I have been struggling to find the right words to say that might bring solace to our campus in the wake of the murder of George Floyd last week at the hands of police officers who are trained to serve and protect. This event is both angering and heart-wrenching, and the fact that this is not an isolated incident, but one in a series of attacks on black and brown bodies, makes it all the more maddening. Since the very earliest days of the United States, race and racism have often overpowered justice. Ninety-nine years ago today, the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, burned in one of the deadliest racial incidents in American history. And still, in the twenty-first century, racial justice still eludes us.

To the African American members of our ‘ohana, we see you. We can only imagine your grief and anger, but we hear you. On our campus, you are loved and valued. At the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, we will continue to live up to our responsibility as one of the most diverse universities in the nation by making that designation mean something, as we continue to spread aloha into our community and beyond. We will continue to combat systemic racism.

Our students, faculty, and staff will value one another and the contributions made by each member of our university community. We will respect the right of each member of our community to live and work in an environment free from violence and hatred. We will honor the dignity of every member of our campus family. And we will continue to instill these values in our students and community. Discrimination has no place on our campus, and we will be guided by aloha and a commitment to equity in all we do.

Stay safe and well,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor Irwin interviewed on Hawai‘i Public Radio

Banner: Hawaii Public Radio. Radio with Vision. Listen and see.

Sherrie Bracken at Hawai‘i Public Radio interviews UH Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin.

Education has shifted to the phrase “distance learning”—and that’s true at every level—including for college students. But that’s just one of the adjustments that has taken place at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Sound bar

Bonnie Irwin is the chancellor at University of Hawaii at Hilo. Normally, campus is bustling, with around 33 hundred students and 250 full time faculty, plus 600 support staff.  Like the other UH campuses, all classes are now online. But campus is not deserted.

“We still have just over 200 students living in our residence halls. For some of those students it’s actually a better place for them to be than at their homes because of the spread of the virus. We have to have support people in place to support those students.  Other offices, most of them are on a rotational basis.”

Irwin says there have been challenges in the new online learning model for both students and faculty.

“We spent a lot of time during spring break putting together a training program, resources for faculty. Faculty are stepping up to help each other. Not to say that people still aren’t struggling. We are keeping our library open for students and faculty only so both our students in residence and our local students have a place to come to use the wifi and use computers. We have students who don’t have internet access at home. ”

UH campuses have been trying to increase enrollment, and the COVID-19 crisis may influence the future decisions of students and their parents.

“We’re actually hoping a lot of our Hawaii resident students think seriously about UH so they can stay closer to home.”

Irwin says she and her team are planning for fall, for both online classes and ways students can still be involved on campus with whatever constraints exist.

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