Poised to Move Ahead
Virginia Hinshaw brings enthusiasm, scientific acumen and forthright style to the job as the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s new chancellor
Fascinated by penicillin discoverer Alexander Fleming, young Virginia decided to grow antibiotic-yielding mold for a science project. Misreading the required medium as corn liquor (it was probably pot liquor, the liquid in which vegetables are cooked), she told her mother that she couldn’t complete an experiment requiring an illegal substance.
Undaunted, her mother asked a friend, a South Carolina judge, for a sample of evidence from the next moonshine case.
The mold grew apace, like an early indicator for Virginia Hinshaw’s career as a microbiologist. "My mother didn’t believe in the word ʻcan’t.’ My parents said I could do anything I wanted as long as I worked hard," recalls the fervent, frank woman who assumed leadership of the University of Hawaiʻi’s Mānoa campus July 1, 2007.
"I loved being a lab rat," Hinshaw says of her years as a researcher at Medical College of Virginia, University of California, Berkeley, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Her focus was on influenza viruses. She did early work on swine flu, impressing Midwestern farmers with her willingness to draw blood samples from hogs, and she stays current on the literature, closely following current concerns about bird flu.
"I still teach, it’s just a different audience," she says.
Discovering that she got just as big of kick out of helping others get grants and tackle challenges, Hinshaw shifted to administration, part-time as associate vice chancellor then as full-time graduate school dean/vice chancellor for research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and later as provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of California, Davis.
"I’ve always enjoyed working with people and problem solving. I really like service work and helping make things happen," she says.
"Service" is a key word. "I always introduce myself as serving as chancellor, because that’s what I’m doing. My job is to fulfill the goals and maintain the values of the people I serve."
Mānoa’s values are already spelled out in a sound strategic plan based on RESPECT—research; educational effectiveness; social justice; place; economic development; culture, society and the arts; and technology.
What’s needed now is implementation, action steps, Hinshaw says. She has some goals in mind, but she doesn’t laying out an agenda prematurely. "My goals have to match the institution," she explains. She knows she wants to improve graduation rates and address facilities needs, and she will say this:
"I want us to be a destination of choice for faculty, staff, students and the public and to be viewed as a highly respected research university."
Hinshaw is willing to take risks to get there. At Davis, she supported a new approach to hiring–in clusters across disciplines. She also led an effort to acquire a high containment laboratory for California.
The initiative failed, but the effort identified the need for a team of people to help faculty put together large research proposals. The resulting team was highly successful in securing new resources for the campus.
"I ask people what gets in the way of doing their job," she says. "I love administration; I hate bureaucracy. I’m a streamliner because saving time for people enables them to focus on the passions that brought them to the university." She also describes herself as a prioritzer. "I prefer to do a few things well rather than a lot of things poorly."
She doesn’t expect everyone to agree with her decisions, but says she has a responsibility to explain why she made them.
A joke at Davis was that those explanations sometimes included the expression "You will want to do this."
Hinshaw spends a lot of time listening—and reading body language for what isn’t being said—to recognize stress or resistance.
"I’m confrontational, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I believe in putting issues on the table because you can work on something if it’s out in the open."
Openly displayed in Hinshaw’s office are mascots from her previous institutions and a signed Badger basketball.
She served on UW–Madison’s athletic board and describes herself as an avid fan of athletics, both for the discipline and opportunities it affords young people and for what it can do to connect people to an institution.
She also is passionate about a land-grant (add sea and space for Mānoa) universitys responsibility to solve society’s problems. Expect her to be chief cheerleader. Davis, she notes, suffered from "Midwestern humility." Talking about the campus’s contributions raised awareness and pride both within and outside the institution, she says.
"Im very forthright," she admits. Just ask the fellow soccer mom who was disturbed to see Hinshaw’s then young son more occupied with looking at flowers than going after the ball.
"I thought it was a riot," Hinshaw recalls with a hearty laugh. "She asked me, ʻAren’t you concerned that he’s not more competitive?’ I told her, ʻI’m not worried about him at all, but I am very concerned about you."
A chat with Mānoa’s chancellor: More on Virginia Hinshaw
Family: Married Huntsville High School sweetheart Bill at age 19; they have 2 sons, 2 daughters-in-law, 4 grandchildren
Trademark vehicle: an early Segway, "my only first, because I was fascinated by the technology"
Constant accessory: A magnetic UH nametag because it invites people to introduce themselves and talk to her
Alma mater: Auburn University, BS in laboratory technology, MS and PhD in microbiology
Accent: Southern drawl (apparent in "y’all" and references to "my daddy") sprinkled with Wisconsin twang (as in "ya, you betcha")
Workout: Walks a treadmill while watching movies; also golfs, hikes, skies, rides horses and swims
Reading habits: 3 books at a time—a murder mystery for fun, a self improvement work "because I never lose hope" and a third book, recently Broken Trust to better understand Hawaiʻi
Philosophy: Be respectful of each other and responsible for your own behavior
Administrative style: Team oriented—"It takes everyone doing their job to make a university successful."
Favorite quote: Jimmy Carter’s "You must adjust to changing times but hold to unchanging principles."