College connections

HILO — Kristin Croyle, the first of four recently announced finalists for chancellor to visit the University of Hawaii at Hilo, met with faculty, staff and community members during a public forum Friday morning.

Croyle, a licensed psychologist in Texas, is a professor with the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and served until recently as the school’s vice president for student success.

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She told the crowd that she came to south Texas as a faculty member, and as her career progressed, she began to do more administrative work.

“The work that I’ve done has focused primarily on building institutional structures that support student success,” she said. “So how do you build a structure in which students are valued and successful? How do you build a structure that has a vibrant research presence so that students can be involved in the research experience? How do you build a structure that is meaningful to the community that serves the students in the community so that the students can go back and become community leaders? So that’s been my focus.”

As part of her presentation, she discussed the importance of regional universities and the myriad challenges they face.

“What do we do with all of this?” she asked after discussing those challenges. “I’m sure the reason that I’m talking to you is because the search committee wants you to have a good understanding of how I think and what I value, so that you can make an educated decision about whether that fits with what you think and what you value. But I want to make it clear that it is less important what I think than what you think, and there would be no way that a chancellor could come up with a plan for campus by themselves. … It would need to be something that is closely collaborative and is driven by the people who love and are dedicated to this campus and this student body.”

However, Croyle said the university can’t build a path forward without recognizing the unique qualities and strengths of the UH-Hilo campus.

One of those strengths is the university’s connection to place, which “comes through repeatedly” in materials, on campus and through the research emphasis of faculty, she said.

“It’s everywhere,” she said. “If you haven’t been to another non-Hawaii campus in a while, it may not be as obvious to you, but it is totally obvious to me. The minute you set foot on this campus, it is clear it is connected to the region in a way that other universities are not. You could not pick this up and move it somewhere else and have it be the same. There are a lot of universities that you could pick up and move.”

Building a path forward, however, could include looking at the student body and shaping the combination of programs to serve that group of students, among other measures.

Following her presentation, Croyle took a number of questions from the crowd, who asked about a variety of topics, including her leadership style and how she would build trust with the campus.

In answering about her leadership style, Croyle said she comes from a “strengths-based perspective” and tends to be fairly optimistic.

“So if there’s a bright side, I am going to find it, but it doesn’t mean I am scared to talk about the pessimistic side of things as well,” she said.

Croyle said she also tends to focus on making connections.

“I tend to be a connector, and I trust people,” she said. “I trust people who work for me, I expect them to do good work, and I try really hard not to get in the way so they can do that good work.”

When asked by the Tribune-Herald how she would address UH-Hilo’s enrollment, which has declined every year since 2012, and student retention, Croyle said it is “well-established there is no single solution for either of those problems.

“There is literature on this, and there is no silver bullet — for enrollment or for retention,” she said. “They’re both multi-faceted issues that require multi-faceted solutions. The combination of programs often does make a difference for enrollment, so being clear on what type of students you’re serving and whether that combination of programs fits that group of students.”

In regard to retention, Croyle said the campus has been working hard on retention plan, “so we would want to take a look at what has been developed so far and the success of those programs.”

She also discussed programs that help students transition into college life.

“Academic culture is pretty weird if you have never been here before,” she said. “So, working closely with students throughout that transitional period so that they know things like college classes are really hard. If you’re struggling, that’s normal. … It is normal, and we have supports, and you can do this, and we will do it with you.”

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The second chancellor candidate, Bonnie Irwin, provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University, will visit campus next week. A similar open forum will be held at 10:15 a.m. Friday (Nov. 9) at the Rose and Raymond Tseng Terrace at UH-Hilo.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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