Chancellors of Hawai‘i Community College and UH Hilo hold first wala‘au, public discussion about vision of future

Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas and Chancellor Bonnie Irwin invited faculty, staff, and administrators from both campuses to share their insights, concerns, and vision of the future for Hawai‘i Island’s students.

By Leah SherwoodPhotos by Raiatea Arcuri.

Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas and Chancellor Bonnie Irwin.
From left, Hawai‘i Community College Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas and new University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin, share a microphone at the first joint wala‘au on Friday. Click photos in this story to enlarge.

Dialogue and listening were the main goals of the first-ever wala‘au (conversation) lunch session led by Hawai‘i Community College Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas and new University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin. Food was served to participants at the lunchtime event held in the Hawai‘i CC cafeteria on Sept. 20.

Faculty, staff, and administrators from both campuses were invited to share their insights, concerns, and vision of the future for Hawai‘i Island’s students, particularly transfer students, and how to build strong pathways of student success between Hawai‘i CC and UH Hilo.

Both chancellors share a passion for community engagement and understand the need for a strong partnership between the two institutions. “We are here to learn how our two institutions can lead the way together to improve life on the island for communities across the state of Hawai‘i,” says Chancellor Solemsaas. “As the two public institutions of higher education on the island of Hawai‘i we have a shared kuleana when it comes to our beautiful island.”

VC Gomes at the microphone, addresses group.
UH Hilo Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Farrah-Marie Gomes shares her mana‘o with the group.

During an interactive “word map” poll, the attendees were asked to share their thoughts about the current state of student success of Hawai‘i transfer students. Words like seamless, challenging, connection, enthusiastic, friendly, unfriendly, overlap, and depends were offered, causing Chancellor Irwin to quip, “It appears that we have the reality and the aspiration represented.” Chancellor Solemsaas summarizes the results as, “we have accomplished a lot but have a lot more to do.”

During the question and answer period, the chancellors took comments and answered questions on a range of topics. The audience asked about preparation, support, and resources for students transferring from Hawai‘i CC to UH Hilo, and how to keep students on track to graduate and increase their academic success. “We need to be open minded about how we deliver education,” says Chancellor Irwin in response to a question. “There are different models of education, whether that is a hybrid course, or a full day of instruction with the rest of the curriculum online.”

The group also identified areas of concern, such as mirror courses, which were designed as a way for students at Hawai‘i CC to take certain classes at UH Hilo not available at Hawai‘i CC that would count toward their degree plan at the community college. Mirror courses may have worked in the past to keep Hawai‘i students on track but the lunch dialogue revealed that a better approach is needed. “We learned that mirror courses are possible, but they are becoming logistically burdensome,” says Chancellor Irwin. “We have to work towards future solutions.”

In a follow-up email, Solemsaas says there are seven topics that were clearly communicated as areas the two campuses could further explore and/or strengthen:

  1. Mirror classes
  2. Early adapters of 2 + 2 (a program where students plan out a seamless path from Hawai‘i CC to UH Hilo—current 2 + 2 programs are in Business, Administration of Justice, and Natural Science)
  3. Dual admission
  4. Transfer scholarships
  5. Transfer student connection/relationship or success support
  6. Space Planning
  7. Bike sharing

Irwin says the group also identified areas still to work on:

  1. Aligning curriculum and learning expectations so that students who move from one institution to the other do not lose any time toward completing their degree
  2. Minimizing paperwork for transfer students
  3. Imagining what dual enrollment might look like

The session was the first of its kind since Chancellor Irwin assumed the leadership of UH Hilo, but both chancellors agree that they would like the sessions to continue. “We will repeat the process at UH Hilo later this year,” says Irwin. “I look forward to the conversation.”


Story by Leah Sherwood, a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at UH Hilo. She received her bachelor of science in biology and bachelor of arts in English from Boise State University. 

Photos by Raiatea Arcuri, a professional photographer majoring in business administration with a concentration in finance at UH Hilo. 

Share this story