Floriculturist and botanist Bill Sakai leaves classroom for golf course

Among faculty, Professor Sakai is the lead example for hands-on learning, the core philosophy of teaching and learning at the college. He retires after 45 years at UH.

By Christopher Lu, Professor of Animal Science.

Bill Sakai with student looking at orchid in greenhouse.
Professor Sakai (right) and student examine orchids at the UH Hilo Agricultural Farm Lab in Pana‘ewa. Photo by William Ing

After devoting almost his entire professional years to the University of Hawai‘i, four years at UH Mānoa and forty-one years at UH Hilo, Professor William Sakai has retired. Among faculty at the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, Professor Sakai is the lead example for hands-on learning, the core philosophy of teaching and learning at the college.

In Hydroponics, one of the courses taught by Professor Sakai, learning outcome was emphasized. Students were required to obtain a successful harvest at the end of semester. While it was not unusual to hear students sweat over the outcome of the harvest, the course ensured the desirable learning outcomes are achieved.

Professor Sakai taught a wide range of courses in horticulture including Principle of Horticulture, Floriculture, and Nursery Management. As one of most knowledgeable people on campus in orchid growing, he is known to integrate industry experience with his teaching.

During 1974-1976, Prof. Sakai served as the Vice President of Production and Research at Flower Cart, a California based company. He is enthusiastic in the practical training of students to meet the needs of industry. Professor Sakai is a recipient of Board of Regents Award for Excellence in Teaching.

From his first study on Xanthosoma sagittifolium for the production of edible starchy tuber in the early 70s to the more recent on giant taro for combating salinity caused by sea level rising as a result of global warming, Prof. Sakai maintained a wide range of research interest in horticulture, agronomy, floriculture and hydroponics. His interest in ariods, the plants of the arum family including taro, persisted throughout his career. Whether he is working on integrating taro production in aquaponics system or the production of biofuel with albizia, Prof. Sakai focused on the application of research results to food and feed production.

He has published widely and is a recipient of Chancellor’s Award on Excellence for Research and Scholarly Activities.

Prof. Sakai is passionate of preparing future leaders in food and agriculture. For many years, he has been the leading force in the area of P-20 agricultural education. Though a grant funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, he raised interest in food and agriculture among primary and secondary schools, recruited many college entering students to food and agricultural disciplines; and mentored them through the academic careers. He has contributed significantly in increasing the workforce in food and agricultural fields.

I personally appreciate Bill’s willingness to accept the invitation to serve as interim dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources in a critical transitional time in 2004.

Prof. Sakai loves teaching. He motivates student to love learning, encourages curiosity and mentors them to success; a teacher taking many hands, opening many minds and touching many hearts.

This article was originally published in the CAFNRM/Agriculture Club Newsletter, Nov-Dec 2017 Issue 1.