Chancellor Masaki Takabayashi addressed KCC graduates at the commencement ceremony in December. (Photo courtesy of Kapiʻolani Community College)

By Cameron Enomoto | Staff Writer

Chancellor Misaki Takabayashi celebrated her one-year anniversary at KCC on March 1.

On Feb. 12, staff writer Cameron Enomoto had the opportunity to discuss some of the work Takabayashi has done in the past year as well as plans she has for the future.

(Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

On bringing people back to campus: I wasn’t going to take the muscling tactic of “you will come back to campus.” I always have faith in us being human. I still do in the fact that we’re human and we need to be with other people. That magnetism for wanting to be with other people, I knew that would do magic for bringing people back. Even when I was coming onto campus as the new chancellor, people were kind enough to host welcome parties and things like that. Honestly, I used to joke that it’s nice that you came for me but you really came for each other. I felt that strongly. I knew that was going to pick up steam and it has.

In terms of classes, it’s not just people wanting to come in. 70 percent of students are part-time. That means they’re working or they have family obligations or other responsibilities. Even if they really wanted to come onto campus, that may not be possible. Just because life is coming back to our campus community doesn’t mean that we need to go back to face-to-face mostly. We need to deliver what the learners need. It’s that whole idea of people needing to be with each other and coming back.

On campus events: We lost some muscle memory and mechanics about doing things on campus. Some events were canceled, and once it’s canceled it’s harder to bring back. I have been talking to continuing education folks about bringing back some of the health and wellness classes. KCC used to do a lot more exercise and dance classes. One of the things I heard from the staff and faculty survey was that they were concerned about physical health. Some of us need a little break and encouragement of saying, “Hey, come do tai chi in the morning” or something like that. They’re working on bringing it back, but it’s a conscious effort. Instead of sitting on the inertia of nothingness, let’s push it so that it comes back up.

The signature events like “I Heart KCC” (in August) came back, and we’re bringing high school groups for the CTE (Career and Technical Education) week as well. I have commissioned a working group to consider what community events Kapi‘olani should be offering moving forward. When I say community, I mean the community we are part of, not just the campus community. We need to be good neighbors and good partners. Since we’re a state college we need to be present, so the working group is evaluating what we need to do moving forward.

On food options on campus: We did start the pancake breakfast for one semester on Tuesdays, and we still have it running now. Student Congress did a survey amongst students and we did one for faculty and staff volunteers. Students loved it of course and they just want bacon and eggs with it, we get it. What was striking was that of the faculty and staff volunteers, nobody grumbled. People enjoyed having that experience together. Offices came together and they were able to have that team-building experience and, of course, the common goal of meeting the basic needs of students has value in doing it with everyone. It’s been very fulfilling to hear that.

There are some food truck options, and while it’s not the same as opening up the cafeteria, we are continuing to work to provide more. I think every little thing helps. It’s amazing how two or three years of shutdown can really disrupt our lives.

On filling vacant positions: We’re also bringing more life back to campus by hiring people. During the pandemic, the entire UH system had a hiring freeze. People were switching jobs during that time and leaving. But once people left, we couldn’t rehire to fill those positions. There’s a jam so we can’t hire as fast as we’d like to bring new people into these vacancies. In the meantime, it’s not great for the people who are left because they’re doing multiple jobs to keep things going. I hear the frustrations from everyone, and it’s something that we’re painfully aware of but we’re working as hard as we can to fill these positions.

On the strategic plan development: I’m very proud of our plan because it’s really built by the campus. It’s not top-down at all; it’s bottom-up. We launched the strategic plan from 2023-2029 in November of last year. That marks a definite beginning of a period. We’re moving forward, and the campus plan is there so that we move in each direction while each unit decides what they need to do. The next step of that process involves telling the world who we are and where we’re going. We need to be more present in the digital world. This will be good for cultivating future opportunities for students in the state and partnerships to build infrastructure in terms of educational experiences. We know who we are internally, but there’s little use to the outside world if we don’t share that.

Previously, 10% of our student body were international students. Kapiʻolani was a global campus, but unfortunately, Covid killed that because global mobilization was severed. As part of a revitalization effort, I want to create more opportunities for our KCC students to study abroad and bring back what they learned to our campus and their own lives. While it’s important to bring in international students, it’s crucial to consider how we can globalize all our students so that they can get a job anywhere in the world if they want to. Just because we’re from Hawaiʻi doesn’t mean our capacity is limited. Our students should feel confident to go anywhere in the world and do amazing things.

On favorite aspects of the chancellor role: The campus members and I think this is something that the students can see very easily, there is absolutely no question that we are here for the students. People are willing to do so much for what they believe is good for students. That dedication for student success, it’s something that even if you’re the world’s best chancellor, you cannot create in each person. Kapiʻolani already has that innately. I really feel giddy and happy when I talk to students. I don’t think most students know who I am when I go to Pancake Tuesdays, but I do discover little stories. Seeing slivers of campus life and how they feel about it is pretty cool. Honestly, it sounds super cliche, but I’ve gone through stages of life when I wasn’t that excited to go to work, but I’m actually excited to go to work now. Having to do this and that because you want to and the fact that it leads to something productive for students is a whole universe away from having to do this and that because you just have to.