Assistant Professor Lissa Tsutsumi, greatly admired by students and peers alike, specializes in equine science and is credited with renewed interest in the field at UH Hilo.
By Susan Enright.
Lissa Tsutsumi, assistant professor of applied agricultural sciences at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, received the 2023 Outstanding Advisor/Mentor Award, an award given annually to an advisor or mentor nominated by peers and students. The announcement was made at UH Hilo’s 2023 Awards and Recognition Celebration in May.
Based at the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management, Tsutsumi teaches a mix of equine-related courses and courses needed for veterinary school applications such as horse production, horse handling and practical skills, anatomy and physiology of farm animals, fundamentals of riding, physiology of reproduction, and veterinary pharmacology. She has developed animal science courses, an equine science certificate, and an equine program, which consists of several horses used for riding lessons and course demonstrations and activities at the UH Hilo Farm Laboratory in Pana‘ewa.
An alumna of UH Hilo, Tsutsumi received her bachelor of arts in kinesiology and exercise sciences and then her doctoral degree in pharmaceutical sciences from the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy. In 2021, she received the UH systemwide Frances Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.
Advisor with vision and dedication
Saraswati Tokura-Ellsworth, livestock technician at the university’s farm laboratory who nominated Tsutsumi for the 2023 advising award, explains that the assistant professor inherited all advising duties for students in the college’s animal science program in fall 2018 due to the retirement of the last animal science professor. Since that time, she has been assigned all animal science advising and has been responsible for the curriculum and course development for that specialty.
“With her vision and dedication, she has developed an equine certificate and accompanying courses and provided a unique set of courses for students, which has resulted in renewed interest in the area,” writes Tokura-Ellsworth.
The nominator notes the level of dedication Tsutsumi has for her students. “Since fall 2018, she has consistently advised an average of over 20 students per semester, sometimes over 30, a tremendously high number for an individual faculty.”
“It’s not just the quantity but the quality of her advising that sets her apart from her faculty peers,” Tokura-Ellsworth further explains. “She works with each student individually and develops personalized academic road maps for each one. She is always available and accessible. She is truly a student advocate academically as well as through her role as co-advisor for [on-campus student organization] Hawai‘i Island Pre-Vet Club.”
Inspiring students to reach their full potential
Tsutsumi says when it comes to advising her students, one of the biggest things she tries to maintain is availability.
“I think for students it can be stressful when they don’t know where or how to get the answers they need to be academically successful, and I try to alleviate that as much as possible,” she says. “I have advised students at 11 o’clock at night, while in active labor—that was a fun one—, while on the back of a horse, etc. I would like to think that being available is what impacts the students most in terms of well-being.”
In the back of her mind always is remembering what it was like being a student.
For example, as a professor, when she looks at a curriculum sheet, everything is self-explanatory and easy to navigate for her. But that clarity is because she has looked at so many over the years.
“So I try to remember what it was like as a student, and explain with that perspective instead of my own,” she says. “I’ve found this to be extremely important and helpful in reducing small curriculum errors, which over time, can add up and delay graduation timelines.”
Tokura-Ellsworth emphasizes Tsutsumi’s dedication to her students. “I have personally seen her spending countless hours in communication with students regarding not just their classes, schedules, etc. but also their future goals, interests, and many other things they are needing guidance on.”
Says Ariana Dolan, a former student of Tsutsumi’s now attending veterinary school, “She believes in me, inspires me to do my best, and pushes me to reach my full potential. Due to her advising and guidance, there have been more students who have been accepted into veterinary school than before and the popularity in attending school at UH Hilo in animal science has increased.”
Tsutsumi is also highly respected among her peers. Says Keian Shon, a former UH Hilo academic advisor at the Division of Student Affairs, “Through my experience, Lissa is one of the most attentive, detail oriented, thoughtful, and trustworthy faculty advisors I have had the pleasure of working with. She is my go-to advisor for all questions related to College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management. She demonstrates willingness to continuously go above and beyond to provide support and service to each student I have referred to her.”
In addition to her outstanding teaching and advising, one of the main outreach projects Tsutsumi is working on is Hale Lako, a supply store for UH Hilo students that provides non-perishable goods, school supplies, clothes, pet supplies (for emotional support animals) and personal items such as soap and laundry detergent.
The items are donated by UH Hilo faculty, staff, students, and the surrounding community to ease students’ worries about essentials and help them focus on succeeding in school.
“This store offers free items to students, no questions asked, many of which are basic needs,” says Tsutsumi. “I have had student workers and volunteers assist in the process of collecting donations and maintaining the store.”
She adds, “The mission is not only to provide basic needs, but also hopefully spread the message of reduce, reuse, recycle and sustainability.”
Story by Susan Enright, 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.