Bonnie Irwin, the current provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University Monterey Bay, was recommended for approval by the University of Hawaii Board of Regents as the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s next chancellor, it was announced Monday.
Her appointment, which is expected to be considered for approval during the Board of Regents meeting Jan. 31, would be effective July 1.
“I was very excited about it,” Irwin said Monday about her recommendation. “I had such a good feeling when I was on the campus. I just think the fit is excellent between my skills and experience and the challenges ahead for UH-Hilo.”
According to a UH news release, Irwin’s career in higher education began in 1984 as a graduate student instructor at her alma mater, University of California at Berkeley.
She also worked at Iowa State University before accepting a tenure-track faculty position at Eastern Illinois University, where she was an English professor specializing in world literature and folklore before moving into administration.
She served as the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities and dean of the Honors College at EIU before moving to CSU Monterey Bay in 2014, where her responsibilities included leading six academic colleges, a college of extended education and international programs.
“Under her leadership, the campus expanded strategic academic offerings to serve the community while increasing student retention and improving graduation rates,” the news release reads.
Once in Hilo, Irwin said one of her first priorities will be getting to know the campus better — to listen and learn about the aspirations people on and off the campus have for the university and what various groups see as challenges ahead.
“Another big priority is the number of interim people on the campus in various leadership roles,” she said, and “getting started doing searches for vice chancellor and dean positions where there are currently interim people.”
And when looking at “some of the things we know are challenges moving ahead,” Irwin said student retention would be the first to be addressed.
“(We want) a greater percentage of students who start education at UH-Hilo to finish it there,” she said. That means looking at and addressing what obstacles students face.
As a leader, Irwin said: “I have historically been consultative and collaborative in dealing with faculty, staff and students. I wouldn’t presume to come in and keep my own council and make dramatic changes right off the bat. It’s a group effort.”
Irwin said she and her husband are “very excited” about relocating to Hawaii Island, learning more about the community and “learning more Hawaiian language than I currently do.”
“It is a wonderful campus in a very strong system,” she said, adding that she’ll not only enjoy working with the UH-Hilo campus, but the UH team in Honolulu as well, who are “all very dedicated to the success of the university and the state, and (I am) thrilled to be joining the team.”
UH-Hilo Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Farrah-Marie Gomes, who served as co-chairman for the chancellor search advisory committee, said the committee was “very pleased with the level of expertise and experience from our pool of applicants.”
“We made our recommendation to the president after factoring a considerable amount of comments from campus and community members,” she said. “We thank all of them for their participation in the process because that’s what has allowed us to feel confident in the recommendation that we made.”
Gomes said the committee thinks Irwin is “bringing to Hilo what Hilo is needing at this particular time in our development,” such as a “solid foundation in academics,” and is someone in touch with the changing trends of higher education on a national level and who has worked successfully in rural and diverse community settings such as Hilo.
“Bonnie brings a wealth of experience and a heart that will serve our Hilo campus and community well,” said UH President David Lassner in the news release. “She has a deep understanding and appreciation of the critical role small comprehensive regional universities can serve in their communities, and the proven track record to deliver on that promise in the changing environment for higher education in Hawaii and across the nation.”
Irwin, one of four chancellor finalists to visit the UH-Hilo campus in November, will replace Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai, who has served in the role since 2017 when former Chancellor Don Straney left the position to become the UH vice president for academic planning and policy.
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