With her roots in a Pa‘auilo upbringing, Psychology Prof. Cheryl Ramos teaches with emphasis on community engagement and cultural diversity

Guided by her commitment to “ʻaʻohe pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi,” a Hawaiian phrase meaning “one learns from many sources,” which also happens to be a part of UH Hilo’s mission statement, Prof. Ramos carries on a tradition of community-engaged teaching in her online classes this semester.

By Emily Burkhart.

Cheryl Ramos and UH Hilo Motto One Learns From Manu Sources
Cheryl Ramos in her home office, courtesy photo. Depiction of UH Hilo motto is part of a wall wrap hanging in Mookini Library’s lobby, photo by Raiatea Arcuri, click to enlarge.

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Professor of Psychology Cheryl Ramos, a longtime veteran of online teaching, was unshaken last spring by the sudden mid-semester transition to virtual instruction.

Guided by her commitment to “ʻaʻohe pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi,” a Hawaiian phrase meaning “one learns from many sources,” which also happens to be a part of UH Hilo’s Mission Statement, Ramos carries on a tradition of community-engaged teaching in her online classes this semester. “I myself am always learning from many sources,” she says. “There are always things I can add or change.”

She says the UH switch from live face-to-face classes to online teaching was not difficult for her. “I have been teaching online for many, many years so the recent campus transition to online instruction has been quite smooth for me.”

Despite her own familiarity with the format, Ramos keeps the new challenges and stresses students now face at the forefront of her planning. “What kind of internet connection do they have? What kind of space and home environment do they have to do work remotely?”

Ramos’s thoughtfulness, organization, and steady leadership were noted in a survey taken last spring by students asked to comment on professors they thought were highly successful in transitioning to online teaching. One student praised Ramos for “being so inspirational and creating the best remote online learning course for me.” The student felt cared for and stress-free, noting how Ramos adjusted the workload so no one got “burnt out and stressed out.”

Another student noted that Ramos “has been very helpful by sending out emails to let the class know of upcoming assignments and when they are due, and as it got closer to the due date, she would send out another email.”

It’s all about building community

Ramos credits her family and Paʻauilo upbringing with her pedagogical emphasis on community engagement and cultural diversity. Paʻauilo is a small, tight-knit former plantation community on the northeast edge of Hawaiʻi Island’s Hamakua Coast, just south of Honokaʻa, with a history rooted deeply in the sugar era.

“It is from my Paʻauilo family, Paʻauilo school classmates, and the broader Paʻauilo community that I learned so much about what it means to be a community,” she says. “I am who I am, know what know, and do what I do because of them.”

Though virtual instruction means more physical distance in the classroom, Ramos ensures that her psychology courses stay grounded in Hawaiʻi. Her multi-perspectival community psychology course, for example, incorporates local, United States, and global viewpoints while maintaining a regional emphasis. Her combination of pre-recorded live lectures, discussions, resources, and PowerPoint presentations has maintained a comforting continuity for students, whether face-to-face or online.

For example, local award-winning recording artist Kainani Kahaunaele, who is a lecturer in Hawaiian studies and Hawaiian language at UH Hilo’s Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, introduces Ramos’s students to the song Hilo Hanakahi, written by Keola Naumu in the 1930s. The lyrics of the Hawaiian mele take students around the island of Hawaiʻi with each verse describing specific characteristics of each district.

Ramos also strives to create an “empowerment experience” through her online classroom communities, where she says she does just as much learning as she does teaching. “I learn from them, they learn from me, they learn from each other,” she says.

Cheryl Ramos is regalia.
Cheryl Ramos at UH Hilo’s 2018 Spring Commencement.

Surprisingly, Ramos has found that online platforms can allow for greater classroom involvement, as the degree of anonymity makes students more comfortable to share through discussion posts in a way that face-to-face might inhibit. By sharing their experiences, she says, students become a source to learn from each other.

But she also feels that synchronous Zoom calls can create more challenges for students who may be juggling many responsibilities, like jobs, caregiving, and educating their children at home. “It can be challenging for them to find quiet time” for homework, let alone a synchronous class.

“Students quickly learn that they need to get organized,” she says. “You have to be, when everything is turned upside down.” Embracing the 100% online teaching style, Ramos encourages students to use this time to develop self-discipline around scheduling and due dates, a skill that will stay with them long after graduating.

A guiding force

Though Ramos is skilled in utilizing platforms like Laulima, the long-established distance learning platform of the UH System that she calls her “filing cabinet,” she maintains a strong belief in the power of staying open to an evolving teaching style. She credits the support of her colleagues and department for her embrace of technology and teaching strategies to make classes engaging and accessible. “It is so important to be mindful of accessibility for all of my materials.” For example, she has retooled old video recordings and created new ones with captions, making them accessible to students with hearing impairment.

She notes that the campus has been incredibly supportive of faculty during the pandemic. “The tech support has been amazing. Whatever we have needed,” from headsets to laptops, Ramos says she and her students have felt very supported during this uncertain time.

Ramos’s teaching style draws on her long career of multifaceted service to Hawaiʻi Island communities. After finishing her master’s degree, she held various positions with the Hawaiʻi county government while teaching psychology part-time at UH Hilo. She received her doctor of philosophy from UH Mānoa while working for an Oʻahu management consulting firm before returning to UH Hilo.

Barry Taniguchi, Cheryl Ramos, and Randy Hirokawa
Psychology professor and “local girl” Cheryl Ramos (center) received the prestigious Koichi and Taniyo Taniguchi Award for Excellence and Innovation in 2008. Funding for this award comes from the Koichi and Taniyo Taniguchi Memorial Endowment Fund, which was established in memory of the founders of what is known today as KTA Superstores. The award was presented by the late Barry Taniguchi (left), then-president of KTA and the grandson of the endowment founders, and Randy Hirokawa (right), then-dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and chair of the award selection committee. Photo by John Oshima.

Ramos has maintained a teaching position at UH Hilo since 1998, where she is now a tenured professor. Her most recent research has been a collaborative effort among undergraduate and graduate students from psychology, kinesiology and exercise sciences, and pharmacy, focusing on the mental and physical health effects of exercise for cancer survivors.

The project, which finished up in 2019, was a “wonderful experience,” notes Ramos, where students benefitted from real-world experience as research assistants by developing project protocols, collaborating with researchers and students in other fields, recruiting study participants, collecting and analyzing data, and preparing conference presentations.

Though covid restrictions have put this study on hold for the time being, the psychology professor is hopeful that the collaborations will continue in the future. Whatever uncertainty lies ahead, Ramos’s own rootedness and commitment to her students has proven an inspirational guiding force at UH Hilo.


Story by Emily Burkhart, a senior double majoring in English, and Gender and Women’s Studies, at UH Hilo.