UH Expands Focus on Hawaiian Studies and Sustainability

Photo: Courtesy of University Of Hawaii

UH students majoring in law, engineering or pre-med will soon be incorporating sustainability and Hawaiian studies in their course work thanks to a new campus-wide initiative.

The university is planning on hiring eight new professors for the fall 2012 semester, in hopes of fostering more sustainable practices beyond the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management. The same thing goes for Hawaiian studies. Right now, undergraduate students are required to take at least one Hawaiian studies class in order to graduate, but Hawaiian learning stops there for most students, unless they’re a part of the Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge.

“Hawaiian Knowledge is something that can be and should be a component to every discipline on this campus, not only in the school of Hawaiian Knowledge,” says Maenette Benham, Dean of Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge.

The new faculty members will be broken into two groups, or “clusters” – five for sustainability and three for Native Hawaiian programs. The sustainability professors will focus on areas including coastal civil engineering, coastal policy and community development, and environmental economics. The three faculty members in the Native Hawaiian programs will work in public health and social work, Native Hawaiian health and Hawaiian knowledge.

“This is different than anything we typically do,” says UHM Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw. “I think [the initiative] will be attractive to people who are into these areas [of study].”

The idea behind the new full-time professors is to help create new lines of communication among different departments, and research production. Hinshaw says she wants UH to be a leader in sustainability and Hawaiian studies.

“A major principle for this initiative is being a Hawaiian place of learning,” says Benham. “We’re looking for a different way of doing things, and one of the ways is to collaborate across our campus to form new programs and research initiatives that inform today’s dilemmas, that don’t teach only about the past.”

UH isn’t the first university to do this type of hiring. The University of Wisconsin-Madison began cluster hiring in 1998 and has since brought on 138 faculty members working in 49 cluster groups ranging in subject from biomedical engineering to zebrafish biology.

“I think [the initiative] is exciting,” says Hinshaw. “We would like to solve the problems of the world, and take a leadership role, because I think it fits – what we learn can be shared.”