Professor Ellen Ishida-Babineau flees the nest


Professor Ellen Ishida-Babineau retires at the end of the semester after nearly three decades at WCC – Photo by Patrick Hascall
Professor Ellen Ishida-Babineau retires at the end of the semester after nearly three decades at WCC – Photo by Patrick Hascall

Ellen Ishida-Babineau has been shaping minds and building characters at WCC for 29 years. She will retire on Dec. 30.

As a veteran of developmental English, Ishida-Babineau has noticed a shift from the more non-traditional student (the 20-something-plus student, the single parent, the student who did not have the opportunity to attend college at 18) to the teenager still in high school. She is thrilled to see so many tech-savvy students because “they make (teaching) very different.”

She, however, describes herself as “old-fashioned,” which is why you have never received a Facebook friend request from her.

“I don’t have time for social media,” she explains. She “appreciate(s) the new modes of learning, especially distance learning, but (is) still stuck on the human connectedness of the classroom.”

Before coming to WCC, Ishida-Babineau worked at Honolulu Community College in a federal program designed for people seeking a vocation. Focusing on reading and writing, she helped students transition from basic education to specific training programs.

But when she came to WCC, she was immediately struck by the difference in the student body. She had come from some very goal-oriented students to those who were less so.

“When training for a vocation, students can visualize a reward at the end,” she says. “Sadly, not all degree-seeking students are so motivated. The slower-paced life was also a challenge.”

As a child, Ishida-Babineau loved playing the teacher role–whether it was with her siblings, her friends or her cuddly toys. If you were in the room, you were going to learn! So it seems only natural that she should discover teaching as her vocation in life.

Ishida-Babineau received her bachelor’s degree in secondary education (social studies) with a minor in history from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM) in 1975 and her M.Ed. in secondary education (reading) in 1978, also from UHM.

She admits to not knowing which field of study to pursue, finally deciding on education with a focus on reading.

“It had to be reading!” she exclaims with glee. “It’s the thinking behind reading that I love … the underlying thinking skills that we employ when reading, the distinction between the general and the specific.”

Ishida-Babineau also loves vocabulary and enjoys the difference between reading for information and reading for pleasure. “I like popular literature like mysteries,” she says warmly.

She has always been involved with Phi Theta Kappa (she won its Pacific Region Horizon Award in 1993) for much of her career. In 1995, she won the Board of Regents’ Excellence in Teaching Award.

She enjoyed her time as staff developer and the first generation Wo Learning Champions. “Wo Learning Champions promotes professional development in the community colleges, which is why I have been involved in staff development for many years.”

She has also acted as a student government adviser–a role that gave her great delight because “I could continue working with non-traditional students.”

In 2006, she received the Provost Service Award for her work with the Institutional Effectiveness Committee (2004-2007), where she laid the foundation for assessment so that WCC could move towards a more “cultural assessment.”

She assisted in the design of all student-learning outcomes (SLOs) for all courses offered by the college, something that “required a major shift in thinking in terms of education and assessment,” she says.

Ishida-Babineau wanted to bring “a more formal, structured approach to the assessment process, so that faculty is fully aware of what they are teaching and why, and how education reaches across all subjects.

Instructors need to constantly ask themselves, “Why am I teaching this? What do I want my students to know by the end of the semester?”

To the delight of Chancellor Doug Dykstra, Ishida-Babineau became dean of division I in fall 2012. “(T)he campus needed a liaison trusted by our veteran faculty and respected by our junior faculty members,” Dykstra says. “(W)e needed someone with strong credentials as a campus leader in program and learning outcomes assessment, given the pending self-study and subsequent accreditation visit scheduled for 2012. Ellen Ishida-Babineau fit the profile perfectly.”

Ishida-Babineau would step forward again in 2013 as the interim vice chancellor for academic affairs; she served for nine months until the position was filled, whereupon she returned to her dean’s post.

“Throughout the four and one half years of her tenure in administrative posts, Ellen was a trusted adviser and friendly voice who provided key insights to help me understand the historical context and the campus culture of our most congenial of all community colleges in Hawai‘i,” Dykstra says.

As dean, Ishida-Babineau formed strong bonds with other members of the administration.

Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Ardis Eschenberg says, “Ellen is a mentor to me. From the first day I came as a dean, she showed me kindness and guidance … where I could do better, as well as what I was doing well. She modeled student-centered teaching and decision-making and radiated love for her students and colleagues … she is constantly growing and learning while supporting others to do the same.”

As a member of the language arts department for 25 years, Ishida-Babineau built strong bonds with her reading and writing colleagues.

Current department chair Robert Barclay says, “Ellen and I found out that we are actually related, like third cousins twice removed or something like that, so yeah, we’re family. Love you, cuz!”

Ishida-Babineau has many passions in life. Besides reading, she has found great joy in paddling and gardening. Being out on the ocean gives her “a sense of freedom;” digging in the dirt “calms and relaxes” her. Buddhism ties it all together.

She is active in her temple and embodies the act of practicing compassion and kindness on a daily level. Buddhism has “made me less impatient, less selfish,” she says with a smile.

After retirement, she will continue her bi-annual visits to Japan, her “spiritual home.” A practicing Buddhist of 21 years, she finds solace in the purity and peacefulness of The Land of the Rising Sun.

“But first, I’m taking a cruise along the River Rhine in Germany!” she says excitedly. She also plans to visit England, books in hand, so she can explore Bronte country, visit Howarth House and sit at the little writing desk where Jane Eyre and Mr. Darcy first came to life.

She wants to trek across the Yorkshire moors in the footsteps of Cathy and Heathcliff, and whisper their names to the wind. Having spent her life in a world of books, she now wants to escape her reality and immerse herself in the land of her favorite authors.

As an avid collector of teapots, Ishida-Babineau also wants to visit England because “I’ve always wanted a tea cozy. I’ll find one in England.”

Asked “if there was one thing you could change about WCC, what would it be?” she replies: “I’m not sure I would change anything. I’ve seen it grow in student population and buildings. Given the library and building aesthetics, they’ve done a great job. It all fits together. We have better roads and better parking. Almost every classroom has some form of technology, and each department will have the faculty it needs. Change will always happen.”


by Annette Priesman, Special to Ka ‘Ohana