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By Pavel Stankov. September 30, 2013 - 11:52 am
Members of the Hawaii Pacific University community were invited in early September to share their thoughts on what works and what doesn’t at the school.
The two town hall meetings, held in collaboration with architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross, took place at the Sea Warrior Center Sept. 5 and 6 and included faculty, staff and a handful of students. At each, a brief introduction by HPU President Geoffrey Bannister was followed by Ayers Saint Gross Associate Dana Craig Dixon’s presentation on the challenges and quirks of HPU’s planning.
Attendees then had the opportunity to write down and discuss what they think is successful at HPU and what needs more work.
1. Small class size
College preparation company Peterson’s estimates HPU’s student-to-faculty ratio at 14:1 with the majority of classes under 20 students – 65.1 percent according to U.S. News & World Report. Another assessment by comprehensive review site College Factual estimates the ratio at 15:1, not far off the nation’s average of 16:1.
This is a strength of Hawaii colleges that reflects the islands’ demographic blend and welcoming spirit. HPU was rated No. 1 nationwide in overall diversity by College Factual, which found that the university is fifth in ethnic and sixth in geographic diversity out of the 1,288 higher education institutions surveyed. The first-place ranking is the result of combining HPU’s scores compared with the rest of the campuses.
3. Sense of place
HPU’s location earned high marks in terms of “sense of place.” The school boasts an impressive combination of urban (downtown), mountainous (Hawaii Loa) and shoreline (Oceanic Institute) localities. “It’s an amazing place, it’s a magical place for these three incredible campuses,” agreed Kevin King with Ayers Saint Gross. According to college review site College Prowler, HPU also can boast 73rd place out of 1,411 for friendliest locals.
The meeting attendees, which largely comprised staff and faculty members, considered community a success at HPU.
5. Competitive prices
HPU backs up this claim with data: According to the school’s Ranking and Achievements webpage, HPU “regularly has the rare honor of being included in Barron’s ‘Best Buys in College Education’ book.” HPU hasn’t made the list since 2010, but more recently it earned an honorable mention from Bloomberg Businessweek as runner-up to the University of Hawaii at Manoa in return-on-investment among local colleges. Meanwhile, College Factual – the organization that evaluated HPU as the best nationwide in terms of diversity – gave the school an F- on the value metric. HPU scored in the bottom 10 percent, or 1,204th out of 1,288 surveyed institutions.
6. Aloha Tower Marketplace
Developments at the landmark Aloha Tower Marketplace have been discussed in the context of HPU’s expansion for nearly two years. Earlier this year the school acquired full ownership of the tower and moved some of its executive offices there. The university plans to add student housing to the site and, as announced in the Kalamalama, a new bookstore in partnership with Barnes & Noble is expected to open there later this semester.
7. Campus safety
Downtown Honolulu’s Fort Street Mall, bustling and filled with Securitas guards, provides a sharply different experience from the serene Hawaii Loa campus. Despite drug problems in Chinatown and occasional prison-escape scares, HPU students have not been harmed at the downtown campus. Honolulu is generally considered a peaceful city, and in terms of natural disasters HPU’s Rave Alert system has been timely in notifying its subscribers of potential crises. Still, according to the online assessment site Students Review, HPU garners only a C+ for “perceived campus safety.”
8. Tech facilities
HPU’s community evaluated highly the work of the school’s information technology team in enhancing the classroom experience. The school’s computer labs downtown and at Hawaii Loa are equipped with both Windows and Mac machines with some of the latest software, and virtually all classrooms have multimedia projectors. Student opinion site College Prowler graded computer experience at HPU at B+ while the school ranks 313th out of 1,382 for having the “best technology in the classroom.”
9. Accessible faculty
10. Downtown-Hawaii Loa transportation service
HPU replaced its shuttle vans with minibuses in fall 2011 and according to staff and faculty, students are satisfied with the more spacious vehicles. The buses leave every 15 minutes from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and every half-hour from 6 to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays.
11. Bus lines
The HPU community also is satisfied with TheBus, Honolulu’s highly rated public transit system. The central location of HPU’s downtown campus makes it accessible without a transfer from almost anywhere on Oahu, a clear advantage compared to other colleges on the island. The $152 U-Pass is an affordable and convenient option for students, faculty and staff who want to avoid traffic and lack of parking.
12. Downtown restaurants
Honolulu’s culinary options are a significant benefit to HPU. From authentic ethnic cuisine to fast food, there is always variety for students, faculty and staff who can then opt to sit and linger or grab a quick bite. Many downtown eateries also feature reduced prices for HPU students, and some participate in the OCMP meal plan.
1. Student housing
One persistent complaint has dogged HPU since its opening: the lack of housing options close to the school’s downtown buildings. Until the Aloha Tower Marketplace project is complete, the best choice for students remains finding off-campus locations. Some students inhabit the limited-capacity dorms at the Hawaii Loa campus, while others occupy Ohia Student Housing in Waikiki.
Lack of affordable parking is a problem for many downtown professionals and members of the HPU community are no exception. Current favorite all-day parking spots include Kukui Plaza ($1.50 an hour), Capitol Place on Queen Emma Street ($1.50 for half an hour), One South King Building ($10 all day) and Chinatown Cultural Plaza ($1.50 for half an hour without validation). These are comparatively cheap as some office buildings have rates up to $5 for half an hour.
3. Meet-up and Hangout spots
The Sea Warrior Center, where the town hall meetings took place, and Sharky’s Cove are the only informal hangout locations downtown. Hawaii Loa features large lanais where students can interact with each other and faculty, but that kind of space is not an option downtown until the Aloha Tower Marketplace project is complete – in fact, one of the planned facilities at the marketplace is aimed directly at filling that gap.
4. Performing arts/athletics space
HPU’s performing arts are a frequent feature at Honolulu’s churches at the end of each semester; meanwhile, sports teams play in neutral arenas due to a lack of on-campus facilities. In terms of working out, students prefer other fitness options over the current Hawaii Loa gym. The developments at Aloha Tower are expected to address the lack of workout space, but not a venue for varsity teams.
5. Sense of campus downtown
HPU’s community recognized the value of the university’s location, but it also identified the lack of a traditional downtown campus. Some participants in the meeting expressed unease about sharing office space with other companies in most of the downtown buildings.
6. Fort Street Mall problems
Related to the “sense of campus” is concern with the image Fort Street Mall projects to newcomers. While town hall participants indicated feeling safe overall, the apparent crime, drug use and poverty on the border of Chinatown and the business district easily could surprise visitors to the school.
7. Traffic safety
The second town hall meeting coincided with the kickoff of the Drive with Aloha campaign, at which HPU students and staff along with police and community members reminded motorists passing by the Hawaii Loa campus of the value of a human life. A hit-and-run at the crossing in front of the Windward campus claimed the life of 19-year old HPU sophomore Mariah Danforth-Moore in December 2011, less than a year after another traffic accident killed 18-year-old baseball player Zachary Manago. At the downtown campus, one potentially hazardous crosswalk spans Nimitz Highway fronting Aloha Tower Marketplace.
8. Disconnect between campuses
The Hawaii Loa and downtown campuses are separate worlds in terms of location as well as administration. Some HPU community members expressed discontent with the heavy centralization of offices downtown, a hurdle for those who spend most of their time in the science labs on the Windward side.
9. Signage and design inconsistency
HPU lacks a comprehensive signage system to guide new students. In addition, HPU’s downtown building names are distinctly post-modern with their two letter abbreviations, which might also be confusing to unfamiliar visitors. Add this with the school’s initial bold plan to replace the old logo, halted mid-way to a compromise position: HPU now uses the old symbol (Seal) as a nostalgia mark on diplomas while all other official representation of the school is the fishhook mark. Go figure.
10. Student learning center
A few voices in the community spoke to the lack of an integrated learning facility. HPU’s tutors and its library are in the same building downtown, while a computer lab is up the street in the FS building.
11. Blackboard and Wi-Fi issues
Online learning platforms rarely function flawlessly and the HPU community has had its share of dissatisfaction with Wi-Fi connectivity, freezes, random losses of connection and other technology missteps. According to data from review site College Prowler, HPU’s network reliability and wireless availability ranked 1,074th and 1,029th, respectively, out of 1,407 schools.
12. Renewable-energy Sources
Despite Hawaii Loa’s current participation in the energy conservation initiative Kukui Cup and the state’s recognition of HPU’s efforts to promote sustainable behavior, the school has not implemented renewable energy on a larger scale.
Another town hall meeting will take place in October at the Hawaii Loa campus. Kevin King, an associate principal with Ayers Saint Gross, extended an invitation to a broader segment of the HPU community to participate: “We find that if we get people talking about these issues, we learn more about the process, people feel like more of their ideas are being used and incorporated into the plan and I think there’s a greater sense of ownership about that.
“Top-down plans never really work, because we don’t have all the information.”
“This is a good opportunity to have an impact on where HPU is going, so I think everyone should use it,” said Student Body President Miina Huotari.
Photos by: Hallvard Kolltveit, Michelle Loeken & Maren Bjoergum