Irwin: Bumps in the road

Every day on my way into campus, I slowly traverse multiple speed bumps, or calming devices as some call them. It is easy to get annoyed as I bounce along, but I remind myself of its purpose — to slow down traffic in order to keep everyone safe on campus.

Even with the reduced numbers of people on campus, the principle still holds: safety first.

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As I approach central campus, the quantity increases, as does the helpful signage: bump ahead, bump, bump ahead, bump, bump ahead, bump, bump, bump. The signs often inspire me to reflect on life and its challenges.

Who could have imagined all the bumps we have encountered in 2020? Bump ahead, indeed!

Pandemic challenges, budget challenges, political turmoil — the list goes on. Some days it is overwhelming, but I realized it is OK to take a break every once in a while and consider one of these bumps in our road as a calming device that is asking me — all of us really — to slow down, consider the well-being of others and accept the presence of bumps in the road.

Despite the challenges of the year, we have more new first-year students enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Hilo than we have had since 2013. The hope of these 466 people in the future inspires me to keep driving over those bumps.

Their journeys are my focus and the mission of our campus. We flatten out as many bumps in the road for them as we can — they should be challenged in their classes, but the logistics of navigating the bureaucracy of the university should be smooth.

Still, life itself will put bumps in their paths, some of which we can help them with and some of which they will have to tackle on their own. These challenges help them grow and learn.

The bumpy road will extend into 2021, and we need to concentrate on our long-term health and resilience. At UH-Hilo, classes will look much the same in spring — mostly online, a few offerings in person for those courses than cannot be transitioned entirely online.

Unlike last spring, however, when faculty and students were thrust into the online environment with scant time to prepare, we are now becoming experienced at online education, and many faculty are finding that they would like to continue perfecting their skills so they can teach some of their classes online, even after the pandemic is in the rearview mirror. This shift is made possible by distance learning support staff who have offered training and assistance to our faculty and will allow us through time to do a better job of serving the entire island.

Becoming more skilled in online learning is only one of the examples of how we are learning to thrive in the midst of COVID-19.

Our student support services are becoming experts in toggling back and forth between serving students in person and online. The staff has learned new tools, provided engaging online programs and maintained a physical presence in their offices for those students who are here on campus.

Our administrative and auxiliary services staff amazingly continue to allow the whole enterprise to run smoothly, here on campus and online. Even with the specter of budget cuts on our horizon, employees throughout campus continue to step up with energy and creativity to serve our students and community.

All of this traversing over speed bumps takes a toll, however, and I find myself reminding folks to take a break, leave the stress behind and re-energize, for this is a long journey and bumps are frequent and ever-present. So, we pull over to the side of the road, take a breather and then hop back into the driver’s seat and continue the journey, driving carefully and steadily over the bumps.

Just as our new students inspire us, so, too, does the future of our beloved university and community.

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UH-Hilo strategic doing committees of campus and community members continue to answer the questions “Where are we going?” and “How we will get there?” Their work will help us navigate the bumpy road ahead toward a brighter future for us all.

Bonnie D. Irwin is chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Her column appears monthly in the Tribune-Herald.

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