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Mitchell K. Dwyer   |   Staff Writer
February 5, 2024
  • Sofia Ferreira
UH Hilo graduate student Sofia Ferreira collects coral reef data using photogrammerty techniques. She is lead author of a study published on predicting habitat complexity using a trait-based approach on coral reefs in Guam.


“My dream for UH Hilo is that every student will be able to do something meaningful outside of class, whether it is research, studying abroad, an internship, or community service,” says UH Hilo Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin.  “A student told me that studying abroad at another university opened a door of opportunity she did not even know was there. This is what I see happening at UH Hilo.”


Access to these opportunities for as many students as possible is a high priority for UH Hilo, as Irwin explains in a recent column, highlighting the university’s partnership with its community. Behind every support fund or scholarship is a person or company committed to making higher education available to all students, she says. “Members of the local community who give their support to UH Hilo see it as an investment in the future.”

To improve access for all students and to encourage their embracing these high-impact practices, Irwin has established the Chancellor’s Fund for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity. The fund will assist undergrads with expenses related to their pursuits, such as travel for presentations at conferences, or materials related to their research.

“They begin to see all the possibilities”

Irwin says, “Research ignites sparks in students, and in research they can apply their learning to addressing local challenges. We have excellent graduate programs and our grad students need support also, but for me it all starts with the undergraduate experience. It is so fun to watch students get excited about their projects, and to see them present their findings to a professional audience. They begin to see all the possibilities in their fields of study and what it is like to be professionals in the field. Seeing this transformation first-hand is one of the faculty experiences I miss the most.”

At another university years ago, Irwin accompanied 17 students and four faculty members to a conference, traveling across many states by plane and car, and having their meals together.

“The rapport we established among the students and with their faculty created lasting memories and instilled in the students confidence in what they learned,” says Irwin. “I still tell stories from that trip, and I am still in touch with those students, watching them grow in their careers. I want students and faculty at UH Hilo to have these same experiences, assuring students that they are ready to join the leagues of professionals in their fields.”

A vision for changed lives – and transformed communities

More students pursuing research, mentored by UH Hilo’s outstanding faculty, will lead to more students graduating and going for post-baccalaureate degrees. Irwin hopes this long-term vision will change lives and the Hawai‘i Island community.

“Some students have the resources and knowledge to seek opportunities, but others find them beyond their reach,” she says, “and I think funds like the one I am establishing help create more of these opportunities. UH Hilo is a hidden gem, a place where cool things are happening all the time. Our challenge is to make more people aware of our excellence, our dedication, and our aloha.”

If you would like to learn how you can support UH students and programs like this, please contact us at 808 376-7800 or send us a message.