UH Hilo kinesiologist Harald Barkhoff receives prestigious leadership award from American Kinesiology Association

Prof. Barkhoff was honored for his great contribution to curriculum development in the UH Hilo kinesiology and exercise sciences program and for inspiring dozens of undergraduates to collaborate in sports science research. His papers at conferences in Polynesia have introduced the integration of kinesiology in the context of island cultures and in particular indigenous and Native Hawaiian knowledge and belief systems.

By Susan Enright.

Harald Barkhoff holds trophy.
Harald Barkhoff with his award received from the American Kinesiology Association, Jan. 26, 2019. Courtesy photo.

Harald Barkhoff, professor of kinesiology and exercise sciences and chair of his department at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, received the 2018-2019 Jerry R. Thomas Distinguished Leadership Award for Bachelor’s Degree Granting Departments, the highest honor given by the American Kinesiology Association. Barkoff received the recognition at the AKA annual Leadership Conference held Jan. 26 in Phoenix, AZ, where he was also appointed to the association’s board of directors and diversity committee.

“I am truly humbled and honored to have received such a prestigious award on a national level, it was quite a surprise,” says Barkhoff.

Prof. Barkhoff is a tenured full professor. He was a member of the 2017-2018 President’s Emerging Leaders Program of the UH System. In 2013, he received the UH Hilo Applied Learning Experiences Excellence in Teaching award. He is a member of the Hawaiʻi Charter School Commission of the State Board of Education.


Elaine Heiby in lei.
Elaine Heiby

Elaine Heiby, professor emerita of psychology at UH Mānoa and licensed psychologist, nominated Barkhoff for the award. Barkhoff sends mahalo to her for the honor, and also to Misty Pacheco, an associate professor of kinesiology and exercise science (KES), and Matt Platz, professor of chemistry and former vice chancellor for academic affairs, both of whom are colleagues of Barkhoff’s at UH Hilo and provided letters of support for the nomination.

In her nomination letter, Professor Emerita Heiby writes about Barkhoff’s great contribution to curriculum development in the UH Hilo KES program, including the creation of career-relevant tracks within the department, “such as the very first KES-track Health Promotion whose graduates work for healthcare providers in the Hawaiian community.”

Associate Professor Pacheco was hired in 2014 to develop the Health Promotion track. “The initiation of this new track was great foresight on his part and has notably strengthened the KES undergraduate core,” she writes in her support letter. “Importantly, with its implementation, Dr. Barkhoff has allowed the University to be more responsive to the allied health demand that persists locally, nationally, and globally.”

Further, Heiby goes on to say Prof. Barkhoff “has succeeded in inspiring dozens of undergraduates to collaborate in sports science research that resulted in poster presentations and peer-reviewed articles, thereby facilitating some of them to pursue graduate careers in KES.”

Close up of award with words: AKA, Jerry R. Thomas Distinguished Leadership Award, Presented to Dr. Harald Barkhoff, University of Hawaii at Hilo (Bachelor's Degree granting Department Award), 2018-2019.

In his letter of support, Prof. Platz, who served as vice chancellor for academic affairs during the early years of the KES program, says of Prof. Barkhoff’s outlook and skills: “With Dr. Barkhoff there was no posturing, just an attitude of let’s work together pragmatically to make things better for the maximum number of students. I trusted him and he found a bureaucratic path to bring special needs middle school students to campus to work with KES majors at our campus swimming center. He inspired our majors to get deeply involved in Special Olympics activities. He built a physical locus for the faculty in Edith [Kanakaole] Hall and gave KES students their own safe, study area to call home.”


Barkhoff says that while the award recognizes the leadership of an individual—in his case the leadership of the UH Hilo kinesiology and exercise science department—he feel it is more of a reflection and national recognition for the successful efforts of the KES team and larger community.

“You cannot excel as a leader if you do not have amazing people around you,” he says.

Barkhoff arrived at UH Hilo in 2004, joining a small health and physical education department with 48 students that transformed over time to the current thriving KES department that serves over 300 students, the largest enrollment of any program at UH Hilo. Native Hawaiian students make up thirty-five percent of KES majors.

There are three tracks for the major, and since the beginning of this year, the exploratory Health Sciences program was added.

Barkhoff says Robin Takahashi, former longtime instructor of health and physical education at UH Hilo who started the KES program, provided crucial leadership, and had the vision of what the small program could become over time.

“The core of our success is, of course, our diverse and large student body,” Barkhoff explains. “There is no greater compliment you can receive than students and our community trusting us with their education. And in return we have always tried to put our students and their needs first. We were so lucky to have had such dedicated and hard working faculty, staff, and administrators who supported us.”

Indigenous ways of knowing

As part of his professional development, Barkhoff joined the first Uluākea cohort over a decade ago. Uluākea is a program that teaches faculty, through immersion in Hawaiian culture and language, about understanding indigenous ways of knowing the world. Faculty are then expected “to apply these ways of understanding the world to their courses through the modification of courses they already teach or through the development of new courses in which this is incorporated as the foundation,” according to the Uluākea website.

Barkhoff credits Gail Makuakāne-Lundin, former director of the Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center who currently serves as executive assistant of the chancellor, for seeing the potential of the KES program and inviting him to immerse himself in the Uluākea concepts.

“Gail saw from early on the potential of our department,” Barkhoff explains. “She supported us through every step of the way toward our long-term goal to indigenize kinesiology at UH Hilo in accordance with the UH system-wide strategic goal and mission to be a foremost indigenous serving institution of higher education serving all students, particularly our diverse local community including Native Hawaiians.”

Prof. Barkhoff in a one-man race in Keauhou.
Prof. Barkhoff in a one-man race in Keauhou. Courtesy photo. Click to enlarge.

In Heiby’s nomination letter, she cites Barkhoff’s introduction of classes on indigenous sports such as ocean paddling and surfing that previously had not existed in the entire UH System. She goes on to say Barkhoff’s papers at conferences in Polynesia have introduced the integration of kinesiology in the context of island cultures and in particular indigenous and Native Hawaiian knowledge and belief systems. “Overall, under Dr. Barkhoffʻs leadership, University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo (UHH) has expanded the influence of kinesiology in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific islands,” notes Heiby.

In his support letter, Prof. Platz says: “A key strategy to furthering student success is to indigenize the curriculum so that it is more relevant to local students. Dr. Barkhoff is THE campus faculty leader in this initiative. As described by Dr. Heiby, he has revolutionized the curriculum (spurring enrollment growth) by curriculum reform and bringing native Hawaiian and Polynesian traditions and beliefs into our courses. We now have courses in ocean paddling and surfing thanks to Dr. Barkhoff. He has taken the time to learn to speak Hawaiian in a rudimentary manner. He created a UNIV 101 class for the Freshman students interested in health and wellness. He has created a Health Promotion track within KES, he has created sport and spirituality courses. Dr. Barkhoff is an effective leader, someone who gets things done and is a leader of reform and innovation.”

A growing program

The KES program is continuously evolving to answer emerging trends in higher education, community needs, and future work force projections and developments.

“However, there is still a lot of work ahead of us improving our performance and work collaboratively with our students, faculty, staff, administrators and community,” says Barkhoff. “I am so very grateful to have been part of our UH Hilo ‘ohana and our community for almost 15 years now, and my hope is that I can continue to contribute to these collective efforts.”


About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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