2013-01 Dr. Jonassen's Retirement - Murdock

Dr. Jon Jonassen’s Retirement

By Karen Son

After twenty years of dedicated and brilliant service to the Political Science Department, the wider Brigham Young University-Hawaii ohana, and the Laie community, Dr. Jon Jonassen has retired. He and his lovely wife Diya have returned to Rarotonga. His influence has deeply impacted student and faculty lives alike by building our academic programs, expanding extracurricular activities, and widening our vision. Dr. Jonassen opened doors to unique opportunities while sharing his deep understanding of national governments, international organizations, and educational institutions throughout the Pacific, his focus of expertise. Dr. Jonassen’s amazing association with BYU-H has included some not-so-well-known features. For eight years he lived in Japan working as a dance performer and musician that shared the energy, beauty, and aloha of Pacific Island culture with eager Japanese audiences. There he and family members pioneered many of the drum performances, song routines, and fire-knife dance techniques commonly viewed in Pacific cultural performances today, including at our own Polynesian Cultural Center. While maintaining his reputation as a popular performer at night, Dr. Jonassen studied the martial arts during the day, becoming an expert martial artist. Dr. Jonassen’s long academic career began here at BYU-Hawaii where he majored in History and Government as well as Business Management. After gaining his bachelors degree he continued at the University of Hawaii where he earned a masters degree in Pacific Island Studies. By his own account, the choice opened many opportunities for him. After earning his masters degree, Jonassen worked in a number of positions at both national and international levels. Working for the Cook Islands government Jonassen served as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and later as the Secretary of the Ministry of Cultural Development. For the South Pacific Commission Jonassen served as the Director of Programs , engaging 27 different nations, including the U.S. He also worked as South Pacific Commission’s Acting Secretary General. While serving in these positions, Dr. Jonassen worked diligently to encourage and establish a firm foundation within the South Pacific region for successful cultural developments and their involvement in foreign affairs. Equipped with abundant experience and the insights of his varied career opportunities, Dr. Jonassen returned to BYU-Hawaii in 1993 as a faculty member. In 1994, while teaching full-time at BYU-H he also began a PhD program in Political Science at the University of Hawaii. Focused and energetic he completed his doctorate in just 2.5 years. At BYU-H he served as chair of the Pacific Islands Studies Program and within the Political Science Department where he developed various courses and programs that exposed BYU-H students to Pacific Islands government, culture, economics, ecology, and a host of other themes. For a brief time, Jonassen took a leave of absence from teaching to serve as a Cook Islands High Commissioner (Ambassador), representing his home government to New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji. On campus Dr. Jonassen actively wedded his career in government with that as an academic, encouraging BYU-H’s participation in intergovernmental meetings within the Pacific region. His special efforts also allowed BYU-H students unique access to international government internships, experiences, and job opportunities in addition to current updates on political, social and economic issues arising throughout the Pacific Rim. Students remember Dr. Jonassen as an eager advisor and mentor. His commitment to students led him to advise the Pacific Islands club, the Cook Islands club, the Papua New Guinea club, and the Kiribati club. In addition he served within a campus bishopric through which he guided students to reach spiritual as well as academic goals. Even while building his own academic career and widening his reputation, Dr. Jonassen widened student opportunities, improved the academic environment, and strengthened the curriculum. Among other things, Dr. Jonassen helped institute the Political Science Department’s internship program, giving BYU-Hawaii Political Science majors an opportunity to work in various offices throughout the Pacific. He took groups of students to the Cook Islands, giving them the singular chance to intern within the Education Ministry, Opposition Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Ministry of Tourism, among other offices. The trips also expanded BYU-Hawaii’s visibility throughout the islands as students interacted with local news teams, schools, churches, and officials. Even while fulfilling his academic and professional duties and responsibilities, Dr. Jonassen developed his special attributes and talents. A gifted drummer and song writer, Dr. Jonassen has composed more than 200 music pieces and drum beats, some of which are still used at Polynesian Cultural Center along with traditional performances. He also served as an advisor to Aloha Records on Pacific Islands’ music, as well as the president of Cook Islands Music Association. For twenty years Dr. Jonassen represented the spirit of aloha here on our beautiful campus. His commitment to excellence derived from a sincere appreciation and deep love for his students. He genuinely enjoyed working with his students and they, in turn, appreciated him. We will remember him always. His compassionate contributions and dynamic personality will always be remembered.