The State Legislature is opening the 2023 session this month and I am writing this column in between hearings. Foremost on my mind are our priorities at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, and I’d like to share my thoughts with you.

Restoring our general budget and athletics budget will allow us to come out of the austerity measures we had to put into place during the pandemic. This allows us to convert temporary positions to more permanent hires and make sure that the students have the support they need in an environment conducive to learning. And support for our athletics program continues to be an important piece of our community stewardship. It has been a delight to see more fans on the sidelines and in the bleachers again, cheering on our Vulcans.

Security and IT positions are backbone functions that support the entire campus. We used to contract out for security, but the state wants us to hire outright, so we are hiring security into civil service lines and asking for additional ones so that we may ensure the safety and security of our campus.

We are also asking for student support positions, including a career/internship coordinator. Internships are one of the most valuable out-of-class experiences we can provide our students, and having more centralized support will allow us to work with our local community to create more internship opportunities and make sure that these are high quality experiences that complement our students’ classroom learning. There are also numerous compliance requirements for internships that will be much easier to track with a centralized support person. 

The other related position is a transfer coordinator, which will help us provide seamless transfer from the UH community colleges, especially Hawai‘i Community College, and mainland CCs.

Our funding request also includes faculty positions directly related to particular community needs: nursing, education, mental health counseling (our graduate program specializing in clinical mental health counseling is the only one in the UH System), agriculture, and administration of justice. By hiring more faculty, we can serve more students!

Regarding administration of justice, students who want to go into law enforcement cannot do so straight out of high school—they have to be 21 or older. So it makes sense to pursue a university degree, giving them the needed knowledge to not only enforce the law but also understand administration of justice in the context of the communities we serve. This is also the only free-standing program for this degree in the UH system. We can thus serve other Hawai‘i residents outside our island.

Teacher training is another huge need in the state and on Hawai‘i Island. These positions will allow us to support both our current school of education programs but also our Hawaiian immersion education.

In addition, nursing positions are key to continuing our invaluable contributions to building a strong health care system on our island. This was made crystal clear during the pandemic as our graduates, both recent and long-standing alumni, rose to the occasion with the skills necessary to help see us through this most difficult time. 

Curriculum on sustainable agribusiness helps us prepare local students for the kinds of agricultural needs found on our island. We seek to integrate more business skills in our ag programs that allow our graduates to understand the full range of issues confronting growers today.

After the deluge of challenges during the pandemic, UH Hilo is in a strong position to emerge with continued and unwavering dedication to our primary mission: to challenge students to reach their highest level of academic achievement. The goal is to improve the quality of life for families and communities by producing highly skilled graduates who can answer the workforce needs of our island, state, and region.

With the full support of the State Legislature, we can continue to get the job done.

With aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin