University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Chancellor Don Straney hosted the UH Hilo 2017 Recognition and Awards Celebration on May 9. Recognized at the event were Student Employee of the Year, UH Hilo Award recipients and retirees.

Student Employee of the Year

Raquel Zane (center) stands with staff from the Office of the Registrar. (photo by John Oshima)

Raquel Zane, a registration assistant in the Office of the Registrar, was named Student Employee of the Year.

Co-workers say Zane possesses in-depth knowledge of university policies and procedures with an eye for detail. Her troubleshooting talents gained noteworthy attention this past year when a change in processing class withdrawals produced a flawed report. Zane’s discovery of the error and remedy earned the gratitude of the UH System Banner Central Office for a job well done. She also facilitated the most recent fall registration training and oversaw training for new student assistants.

Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

Alex Nagurney and Chancellor Don Straney. (photo by John Oshima)

Alexander Nagurney, instructor of psychology, is this year’s recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Nagurney arrived at UH Hilo in 2012 and quickly earned a reputation as an outstanding teacher. Since his arrival, he’s been a highly thoughtful and dedicated instructor of 50 courses—his students say he is amazingly effective at communicating difficult concepts in challenging subjects such as statistical techniques and research methods. He’s known for including upper level students in his research and publications, inspiring students to delve deeper into their studies and research. He has been recognized for teaching ingenuity by the Apereo Foundation in both 2015 and 2016 for his use of “gamification” techniques to enhance student engagement.

Koichi and Taniyo Taniguchi Award for Excellence and Innovation

From left, Carolyn Ma, dean of the College of Pharmacy; Lara Gomez, recipient; Toby Taniguchi, representing the benefactor family; and Chancellor Don Straney. (photo by John Oshima)

Lara Gomez, director of clinical education in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, was awarded the Koichi and Taniyo Taniguchi Award for Excellence and Innovation.

Gomez is responsible for experiential education, which makes up 30 percent of the doctor of pharmacy curriculum, and prepares students for their advanced pharmacy practice experiential rotations, where they spend their entire fourth year at different practice settings.

Gomez and her staff work with more than 300 students training and guiding some 200 non-faculty preceptors in Hawaiʻi, the South Pacific, continental U.S. and overseas. Her interdisciplinary simulation exercises via distance learning technology utilize the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine, the UH Hilo and UH Mānoa Schools of Nursing and other programs to provide robust inter-professional experiences that teach everything from handling a difficult patient to the most current laws in pharmacy practice.

The Taniguchi Award for Excellence and Innovation is the result of a generous gift from Barry Taniguchi, CEO of KTA Superstores, in memory of his grandparents, Koichi and Taniyo Taniguchi, the founders of KTA Superstores.

Award for Excellence in Scholarly/Creative Activities

From left, Don Straney, Dianqing Sun, Leng Chee Chang, Supakit Wongwiwatthananukit and Karen Pellegrin, director of strategic planning at the College of Pharmacy. (photo by John Oshima)

Leng Chee Chang and Dianqing Sun, associate professors in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Supakit Wongwiwatthananukit, professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and interim associate dean of academic affairs, received the Award for Excellence in Scholarly/Creative Activities.

Chang, Sun and Wongwiwatthananukit collaborated with the UH Cancer Center and universities in Thailand on their nearly decade-long research on “Natural Product-Driven Drug Discovery from Vernonia cinerea (VC).” Their research showed significant bioactivity from VC with no serious adverse effects and discovered new VC-derived compounds that suppress cancer growth and show anti-inflammatory activity.

Their work has been recognized in numerous publications while earning them grant funding and a recent patent award.

They are also co-investigators on a new five-year federal grant that will move them closer to their vision of safe and effective cancer treatment and prevention.

Outstanding University Support Employee Award

Recipient Janet Lindsey, center, stands with Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Farrah-Marie Gomes, to right of Lindsey, and family and staff. (photo by John Oshima)

Janet Lindsey, secretary at the North Hawaiʻi Education and Research Center, received the Outstanding University Support Employee Award.

Lindsey is described by multiple nominators as the glue that holds the center together. From booking room reservations and processing personnel and fiscal paperwork to participating in outreach events and training and orienting new staff and directors, her role supports every aspect of operations at the center.

Outside of her assigned duties, Lindsey develops relationships with students, vendors and community members then leverages those relationships to strengthen community capacity building.

Professional Staff Award

From left, Don Straney, Lo-li Chih, and Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Marcia Sakai. (photo by John Oshima)

Lo-li-Chih, recently retired director of facilities planning and construction, received the Professional Staff Award.

Colleagues consider Chih the foremost expert on facilities planning and construction. As a top-level advisor, he has contributed and advocated for UH Hilo in major construction projects, including the Student Life Center, Science and Technology Building, Haleʻōlelo, and Student Services Center.

He also oversaw completion of complex federal grant-funded initiatives such as the Pacific Islander Student Center, Hale Kanilehua Living Learning Communities, Kipuka Native Hawaiian Student Center, and Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center.

Chih initiated cost saving projects in renewable energy and utility monitoring and created “bus shelter” food concessions to address student preferences for additional food vendors on campus.


Three retirees attended the event from left, Lo-li Chih, Dan Brown and Thom Curtis with Chancellor Straney. (photos by John Oshima)

This list covers the period from April 2016 through March 2017.

  • Roberta Barra, Professor of business administration, 10
  • Daniel Brown, Professor of anthropology, 30
  • Lo-li Chih, Director of facilities planning and construction, 30
  • Kathy Commendador, Associate professor of nursing, 9
  • Thomas Curtis, professor of sociology, 21
  • Ernest Kho, associate professor of chemistry, 36
  • Richard Koch, certified athletic trainer, 8
  • Arnold Miyasaki, Education specialist in animal science, 27
  • Cecilia Mukai, Professor of nursing, 28
  • Michael Murakami, Facilities planner, 15
  • Caroline Patao, Janitor, 6
  • Helen Rogers, Librarian, 28
  • Leslie Tachibana, Building maintenance specialist, 7
  • M Tsang Mui Chung, Professor of horticulture, 31

—From UH Hilo Stories