On Jan. 1, Ardis Eschenberg became chancellor of Windward Community College. After serving the last eight years at WCC, most recently as vice chancellor for academic affairs, Eschenberg takes over the coveted position from Doug Dykstra, who retired last month. Prior to that, she was also dean of language arts, humanities and academic support, which she said “has groomed and help prepare her for the job.”
Eschenberg, the daughter of a small engine mechanic who fixed lawn mowers, chain saws and log splitters, and a stay at home mom who taught French language, is originally from a small town called Sparrow Bush in New York state where New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania all meet in the Delaware River Valley.
It was from her mom that she gained a keen interest in languages and went on to obtain her Ph.D. in linguistics from the State University of New York at Buffalo. It was there she decided that she wanted to work on endangered languages. In her senior year, she traveled to Russia to study psychology at St. Petersburg University and also took Russian language.
“I totally loved learning Russian,” Eschenberg said.
For 10 years, Eschenberg was at Nebraska Indian Community College, which provides for the higher education needs of the Isanti and Umonhon nations. This is where she gained valuable insight into indigenous peoples, and the Indian community in turn embraced her. She counseled and advised students who are primarily Native American, low-income, first-generation college students.
In 2007, she went on a trip to Honolulu to attend the National Indian Education Association Conference. She noticed the laid-back lifestyle with the diverse ethnicities and how different it was from the mainland and immediately fell in love with Native Hawaiian culture, recognizing the similarities with American Indian tribes. She pondered over making a major change and moving to Hawai‘i. She applied for the position of dean at WCC and, after a successful interview, got the job.
“I really have enjoyed every role,” Eschenberg said. “Each role has been really interesting, and I got to learn new things and grow. Windward is not just the students that grow but also staff and faculty. We learn from our students, we learn from our jobs. It’s really a good place to be.”
Not only did she gain experience and knowledge from her previous positions, but Eschenberg has also immersed herself in Hawaiian culture. She has been a member of the Ko’olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club for several years and is a board member of the Ko’olau Foundation, which is a cultural heritage preservation program whose mission is to pursue and promote Hawaiian cultural and environmental practices, preservation and education.
WCC Hawaiian language lecturer Kumu Tuti Sanborn said that Eschenberg has picked up on the traditional Hawaiian ways.
“Our new chancellor is very considerate of others,” Sanborn said. “She never tries to only think about one person or one group of people. She looks at everyone and tries to be there for them.”
Sanborn continued, “I appreciate that she took the time for years to learn Hawaiian. She has gotten so much better because of all the time she took in my classes as well as Kumu Meinecke’s. I am very impressed with her as she caught on as she’s using it orally and written. I write to her in Hawaiian, and she does too. She knows what ‘kuleana’ is and that is important when working with people on all levels. Not only native people, but people in this community. Our community yeah, the whole island, and she doesn’t stop there. So that’s one thing I really, really appreciate that she’s learned and that’s because she knows her kuleana!”
Eschenberg’s two children are enrolled in Hawaiian immersion school and can speak fluently in Hawaiian.
“I met Ardis as a parent of Puohala Elementary Hawaiian immersion school, and so I’m familiar with her as a mother and a family member,” said WCC Creative Media lecturer Moke Ka’apana. “And what I love most about her from my first impression and knowing her now at WCC is her essence. A lot of people focus on authenticity, especially at a university. We’re all de-greed up and educated. But she really still finds a way to communicate her essence and her kanaka maoli. Maoli meaning genuine. So there’s a way for her to radiate that genuine nature of hers. And that’s something I really love about her.”
Hawaiian Studies department chair Peter Kalawaia Moore said he was excited that Eschenberg went up for the chancellor position and that she was selected.
“To me it was a no brainer that she should be our next chancellor … since Ardis Eschenberg has come to our campus, she has been an integral part of helping build our Hawaiian Studies program. She is a valuable supporter of Hawaiian education and community events and projects.”
WCC’s Associated Students of the University of Hawai‘i (ASUH) student body president Bernadette Rose Garrett had this to say about the new chancellor.
“It wasn’t surprising to me that she would be the ideal candidate as she had experience being our vice chancellor. She is a wonderful, inspiring woman who is just about the betterment of the Lā hui, not only WCC itself, but the surrounding communities as well. She’s not only like the leader of the school, but she’s there for you. Especially as ASUH president, there’s a lot of logistics that we have to go through. And for Ardis to be in the position she is, she’s always ready to take them on. She’s in support of our Hawaiian programs, especially how we can improve them and how we can bring new ones to make the campus better, to make the Native Hawaiian population stronger, especially knowing its history.”
Mark your calendar for Feb. 14 as you will have a chance to meet the new chancellor in person at Hale La’akea (the library) for the Aloha Bar meet and greet from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Come and talk story with the new boss and share your ideas with her.
by Ian Jenss, Ka ‘Ohana Editor in Chief