New year, new plans at UH-Hilo

Academic calendars typically celebrate the new year in August or September, so when January comes around, we are already thinking of fall, even as we welcome students who come to us for the first time at the beginning of the year. I was fortunate to sit down with some new UH-Hilo students last week to hear of their hopes for the future and their education.

Two students are here from the United Kingdom and will only be with us for a semester. Interested in their classes, they also asked about things to do; they want to learn as much about the island and our community as possible in their short time here.

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Like many college students, neither has a car, but the need for transportation to explore the island will encourage them to make friends even faster than they would otherwise!

One of those friends may very well be another student who was at our lunch table, a resident of Volcano transferring from Hawaii Community College. She excitedly shared what she knew about her home, and I was proud of the way she spoke with such enthusiasm and her clear comfort with UH-Hilo from her exposure to us while in high school and college.

As we continue with our university strategic planning, we will be focusing on place and people, exactly what the students I lunched with have come here to experience. Our unique island allows us to lift up programs that truly engage the ‘aina as we show students how to best study and preserve the environment around us.

Indeed, two of the students I met want to study marine science, realizing that UH-Hilo is truly one of the best places in the world to undertake that study. They also want to meet people. You may meet them at a farmer’s market or Mokuola as they get out and about, genuinely interested in you and your view of the world.

The new year also brings about a new legislative session, and I was happy to meet recently three of our political science students who are interning in various congressional offices. One was even going to Washington, D.C., to intern for Sen. Brian Schatz in what will be a fascinating few months to be in the nation’s capital.

Internships are one of the most important opportunities we can present these students in this new year, as both Washington and Honolulu will be abuzz with activity. I know we have prepared them well in their skills of communication, in working with a team, and in thinking on their feet as well as providing them with a good grounding in state and federal institutions and the important role they have as citizens and students working in their senate or congress member’s office.

When I meet with these talented students, I am hopeful, not only about the new year, but also about the future of our island and our state.

A new year brings new experiences to all our students, and the more students I meet, the more hopeful I become. The current generation of students wants to serve; they care about their communities (people) and the planet (place).

As we work both within our walls and hand-in-hand with our community on our strategic plan, we will create the best environment we can for students to acquire the tools they need to follow their dreams and serve their communities well into the future. We will also be inspired by the experiences and passions they bring to us.

If I were to have a new year’s resolution for our campus, it would be that we tap into the hope and excitement of our students and bring it into our hearts as we, too, learn how we can become our best selves. That journey is never complete, but every new year brings more opportunity for growth and rejuvenation.

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Hau‘oli Makahiki Hou!

Bonnie D. Irwin is the chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Her column appears monthly in the Tribune-Herald. Email comments to urevents@hawaii.edu.

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