Former Hawai‘i resident named KCC chancellor

PUHI — When fall classes start at Kaua‘i Community College, the campus will be under new leadership for the first time in a decade.

Helen Cox will replace current Chancellor Peggy Cha, who retires in September after more than 30 years in the University of Hawai‘i system.

Approved by the UH Board of Regents for the role, Cox will report to campus Aug. 12.

With 25 years experience in higher education, most recently serving as associate vice president of instruction at Salt Lake Community College in Utah, Cox said she feels ready for the chancellorship.

On a personal level, moving to Kaua‘i will re-connect Cox with her roots. She was born and raised on O‘ahu, and two generations of her family lived on Kaua‘i in ‘Ele‘ele.

While packing her belongings recently in preparation for the move, she found a box of letters from her great-grandmother in Kilauea. Reading them, Cox said she felt like she was “coming home” and her family’s story was coming full circle.

Her connection to Hawai‘i will help ease her transition, she told The Garden Island yesterday, adding that developing her understanding of and relationship with Kaua‘i is a top priority.

Cox’s selection comes after an almost year-long, nationwide recruiting process. She was one of two candidates to visit the campus in May for a final round of interviews, joined by John Madden, dean of instruction at Pima Community College in Arizona.

“Helen just rose to the top for a number of reasons,” Cha said, pointing to her Hawai‘i ties and “tremendous” higher education experience.

The UH Regents have allowed up to a month and a half of overlap, for which both Cha and Cox are grateful.

Cha said she’s confident in her replacement’s leadership experience, but there will be a learning curve when it comes to understanding the UH system, which, unlike most other states, combines four-year and community college education under one umbrella.

Asked what challenges she anticipates, Cox pointed to the changing Kaua‘i economy — from imports to tourism to gas prices.

“These are very real economic challenges with social implications,” she said. “The greatest challenge will be helping Kaua‘i through what is a very difficult period.”

As for her strategy for the first few months, Cox said she plans on “doing a lot of listening.”

Cox holds a bachelor’s in English literature from Harvard University, and obtained master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Utah in English-American literature and studies, respectively. She devoted her dissertation to Hawai‘i and Pacific cultures and studied at the East-West Center in Honolulu.

Most of her career has played out at Salt Lake Community College, starting as a faculty member then moving on to division chair and executive assistant to the president before taking the current position in 2003.

The three-year appointment to KCC comes with an annual salary of $150,000.

At its May meeting the UH Regents also approved two other chancellor candidates: the three-year appointment of Manuel Cabral at Leeward Community College and one year for Michael Rota at Honolulu Community College, with annual salaries of $155,016 and $168,216, respectively.

• Blake Jones, business writer/assistant editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com

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