Dr. Helen D. Varner, dean of the
College of Communication at HPU, oversees faculty and curriculum
for both the graduate and seven undergraduate programs. Varner
has been at HPU for 15 years, during which time her teaching
duties have included courses in advertising, corporate communication,
crisis management, pedagogy, and the communication practica
program. She is the founding dean for communication, and has
overseen the division, now college, for seven years. During
those years, which included time dedicated to public relations
duties as HPU’s vice president for University Relations,
Varner guided the faculty through the creation of four separate
degree programs—advertising, corporate communication,
journalism, and public relations—two concentrations—visual
communication and speech—and the MA COM program. Based
on the recently completed WASC accreditation program review,
she has helped faculty supervise those programs and create
two new ones, rolling visual communication over into multimedia
and developing a B.A. Speech degree.
Also during that time she has actively worked with students
as an advisor to several organizations: Akamai Advertising,
Gamers, and the International Association of Business Communicators.
She also helped students in these clubs and PRSSA develop the
ongoing and ever well-reviewed Communication Career Day networking
event and win 11 first-place awards in regional American Advertising
Federation student competitions.
In 2004, Varner’s service to student and professional communication was
recognized with the presentation of two very prestigious awards, the first being
the Gregg W. Perry Award from the Hawai‘i chapter of the Public Relations
Society of America. The second was the IABC Lifetime Achievement Award, only
the second such award given in 34 years by the state chapter.
Many people consider Varner a hero because she built the communication
from scratch. Varner said, “I am not sure hero is a good word. It is very
rewarding to be able to build something. I was just at the right place at the
right time.” Varner described her job as a dean as “a dream job” and
said that Hawai‘i was in great need of communication.She was fortunate,
she said, “to find a place where my individual strength would make a difference.”
When Varner was asked if she could describe the communication
department and the students within it in only one word, Varner
replied with a laugh: “Supercalafragalistic-expealadosious.
There is no one word that would describe the students in the communication department.
They exist, if I had to pick one word. We have students in all types of media,” said
In describing the communication faculty, Varner said, “The people that
I work with are brilliant, dedicated, enthusiastic, collegial, and very diverse.
Like a family,” Varner added, continuing: “ Just like a family, we
don’t always agree, but we all work through our differences,” she
This year has been Varner’s last academic year as dean of communication
at HPU. On May 31, she will retire to a 30-foot motor home in which she plans
to travel from one family of grandchildren to another. Her husband, Foy, who
is also retiring from his position with the University of Hawai‘i-Manoa
Medical School, has not been heard to disagree with this plan. However, his insistence
that they are not giving away his golf clubs suggests he has plans of his own
for their coming years of cross-country travel.
Despite looking forward to retiring, Varner has said she wants
to stay in touch
with friends and former students in Hawai‘i. “HPU has been a great
part of my life,” she said. “It has been my entertainment and my
mental challenge. There are many I will miss. Anyone who wants to keep in touch
can e-mail me at Hvarner@hpu.edu,” she added. “ I plan to play a
little, work a little, and spend time with my six grandchildren. It’s time
for a new adventure,” Varner said.
Varner will be replaced as dean by the present College of Communication
academic coordinator, Dr.James Whitfield (see “Whitfield” this page).
Varner was asked if the new dean was anything like her, and if she had any advice
Like me? Thank goodness no!” Varner replied. “He is much more of
a scholar than I am. He’s going to do great things. My advice to him is
that we have built an extraordinary program that needs to mature. We have had
growing pains for 15 years. It is time for this program to consolidate. To debug,” she
added, giggling. Varner describes Whitfield as “ the right leader.”
As the phone messages started piling up and people started
walking through the door, it became clear that Varner’s work as dean was not quite over, yet.
But as she went back to the tons of work and students problems that remained
to be addressed, Varner took time to say: “I will not forget Hawai‘i
Pacific University. I will not forget, and I hope people stay in touch.”