Throughout history, the world has faced numerous health crises that have tested the mettle and resolve of its citizens — the Spanish flu, measles, polio, HIV/AIDS, SARS and Ebola. Today, our world is confronted by the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented health crisis that has rapidly spread across continents, overwhelmed modern health care systems and caused widespread disruption of the global economy.
Hawai‘i with its heavy dependency on tourism, is now at an economic crossroad. With high hotel vacancies, idled tour operations and restricted air travel, other businesses such as restaurants and retail stores are also suffering from almost non-existent visitor counts. Even after a vaccine for
COVID-19 is developed or the effects of the disease are mitigated, the “new normal” may suggest that changes to the travel industry and in visitor habits could result in smaller or diminishing returns from the state’s primary industry.
Economic diversification is not only key to Hawai‘i’s economic recovery from the pandemic, it is also vital to its long-term economic stability and health. As one of five priorities set forth in its Strategic Directions, 2015-2021, the University of Hawai‘i (UH) embarked on an initiative to energize economic development through the commercialization of UH-based research and innovation. By pivoting the focus of its world-class, cutting-edge research enterprise to better address critical areas of importance, including: health and wellness, climate change, food and water security, energy, cybersecurity, big data and other areas of growth — UH continues to collaborate with various stakeholders in industry, government and business to diversify the state’s economy through startup and entrepreneurial activity necessary for the development of this new economic sector and its associated workforce.
As we all continue to battle this world-wide health crisis, it is understandable that medical research has been thrust into the forefront of public awareness. However, UH faculty and students are continuously pursuing other equally important areas of research to help improve lives in our state, our nation, the world and perhaps — even in space. In this issue of Noelo, please take a look and enjoy a brief snapshot of our valuable research to see what makes the University of Hawai‘i — like no place else on Earth.
Vassilis L. Syrmos, PhD
Vice President for Research and Innovation
University of Hawai‘i System