A 47-year career of a champion for education at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa has come to an end. A fixture in the campus, who was well respected and critical to a variety of successful programs, Ronald Cambra retired from the university in January 2021.
The Hawaiʻi Island native served in multiple positions for the university, most recently as assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate education since 2005. In that role, he oversaw operations and resources for undergraduate programs, including campus-wide academic advising, first- and second-year programs, honors program, ROTC, interdisciplinary studies, civic engagement, student success center, student learning center and other academic support services.
“The University owes Ron an enormous debt of gratitude, and we miss him already,” UH Mānoa Provost Michael Bruno said. “Ron taught us all what it means to be truly dedicated to the university and to truly care about the success of our students, from the moment they are recruited through to graduation and success in their careers.”
Under Cambra’s leadership
Cambra helped realize a number of highly successful initiatives, including the STAR degree tracking program, 15 to Finish, mandatory academic advising and a consolidation of program sheets to help with the understanding of degree requirements. These initiatives resulted in UH Mānoa increasing its four-year graduation rate from 16% to 32%, and national recognition for the campus’s degree completion projects.
- Related UH News story: Complete College America honors UH’s STAR and 15 to Finish programs, November 11, 2016
Cambra had three goals, “Number one, to find ways to actively engage students when they get here to Mānoa. Number two was to find ways to form partnerships with students, and number three was to develop a sense of stewardship—that undergraduate students understand that this is their campus, that this is their basic footprint. And I think we’ve held true to those three things and that has tied the work together.”
Cambra added, “A lot of those initiatives were having the right people who are so dedicated and hard working that it was easy working with people who see the same kinds of things that you want to do. Strong leadership in STAR, Mānoa Advising Center, Mānoa Transfer Coordinating Center, Honors, Student Athlete Academic Services, ROTC, Interdisciplinary Studies, Civic Engagement, Student Success Center, Professions Advising Center and Student Success Services all are led by very dedicated student-focused leaders. Our catalog’s work on the four-year academic plans and a new scheduler, have made it easier to transform the undergraduate academic experience for our students. It has been my privilege to have worked with these strong, dedicated leaders.”
Cambra was also an invaluable recruiter and ambassador for the university, attending accepted student receptions hosted by the Office of Admissions.
“For 15+ years, he traveled with us across the state and on the continental U.S. sharing the ‘Mānoa Experience’—his signature Dr. Cambra presentation, sharing all the wonderful reasons why Mānoa was one of the best universities in the world,” said Abigail Huliganga Hurgo, UH Mānoa associate director of admissions. “His presence at our events was always a big hit with our prospective and accepted students and wouldn’t be surprised if he was one of the reasons why students chose Mānoa.”
Building an award-winning career in education
Cambra was born and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, and transferred from UH Hilo to UH Mānoa in 1968. As a UH Hilo Vulcan, he was student government president and led a campaign to establish the third and fourth years at UH Hilo, which started in 1969.
He earned a BEd in secondary education and a MA in speech from UH Mānoa, and a PhD from the University of Washington. Cambra became a member of UH Mānoa’s faculty in 1974 and was promoted to professor of speech in 1987. He was the chair of the Department of Speech from 1983 to 1992. In 1992, he became the Colleges of Arts and Sciences associate dean of academic affairs and student academic services, before becoming an assistant vice chancellor in 2005.
Among the numerous awards, Cambra was named UH’s manager of the year in 2019 and went on to win the state manager of the year award the same year. In 2017, he won the Michael C. Holen Pacesetter Award for excellence in the field of advising from the National Academic Advising Association and was the co-author of a presentation that won the 2017 Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities degree completion award, a national honor for institutions with outstanding four-year degree completion achievements.
—By Marc Arakaki