The journey and the destination

Life is a journey, and one of the things that makes it so interesting is that it often unfolds in utterly unpredictable ways. We exert control when we can and when we want to, but very few people end up exactly where they planned.

When I was a child, I wanted to be a flight attendant; when I was in high school, I planned to become an attorney. When I ended up following a path to the professorship (because of the influence of numerous teachers and professors), I thought that would be where I would stay.

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Opportunity and a sense of duty opened up a new pathway for me as I became an administrator, but very few people actually start out on a career and expect to become a university chancellor!

At UH-Hilo, the journey of each student is our focus.

Some students come in with a set course they want to follow. Others are seeking an education and/or a better life (a goal in itself), but they have not decided which particular path they should take.

Our mission is to inspire and to challenge every student: to inspire those who have not discovered a life goal and challenge those who made a choice so they attain the highest standard of preparation for that journey. We also see many students like me who change their goal.

Students in all these groups have often been influenced by a teacher or instructor who was particularly passionate about a subject. Our faculty and staff help students discover their goals, and we support them in achieving them.

One of those ways we support them is through our own commitment to learning and improvement.

I have been thinking a lot this week about Kalepa Baybayan’s words to the UH-Hilo graduating class of 2017: “Be responsible for owning your own dream and vision of where you want to arrive at.”

By engendering a love and commitment to lifelong learning, we help students take ownership of their journey. The number of our alumni and their many accomplishments locally and around the world is evidence of our success.

Our institution also travels its own journey of discovery and growth. And we, too, have “a dream and a vision of where (we) want to arrive at.”

Our new strategic plan, currently under development, will help us chart that course by focusing our efforts around supporting every student in their educational and personal journeys, strengthening our relationship with and commitment to ‘aina and community and supporting our campus ‘ohana.

Like our students, we must take ownership of that vision and our mission of educating students as a means of improving the quality of life of the people of Hawaii, the Pacific region and the world. The vision is ambitious, and, as with all visions, the challenge will come in its implementation.

But in the end, this island and our students deserve no less.

2021 is the year in which UH-Hilo is seeking reaccreditation from the WASC Senior College and University Commission. A team will review our mission and how well we fulfill it.

They will review how well our students learn and what is unique about our degree programs.

They will ask questions about how well we support our students in their respective journeys.

The team will give us advice on how to improve and perhaps give us deadlines for achieving those improvements.

Some people think accreditation visits, like audits, are frightening things, but I welcome them as a learning experience, something that can help us become the better university we aspire to be.

Like a life journey, the journey of an institution is not entirely predictable, but we can influence where we arrive.

We will continue to encounter challenges and surprises, but our strategic anchors will keep us on course.

We will make decisions based on whether any action we take contributes to student success, makes the most of our unique assets and lifts our ‘ohana.

The more successful we are in staying true to our course, the better we can help students remain true to their own.

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Together we will travel ahead.

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

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