SUU Expands Outreach to American Samoa

Published: January 26, 2023 | Author: Abbie Cochrane | Read Time: 3 minutes

International students march in Homecoming ParadeContinuing to strengthen and build the diverse range of cultures on campus, Southern Utah University is extending its outreach efforts to American Samoa. This January, representatives from the University will visit Pago Pago, American Samoa to build academic relationships with local educational institutions.

“SUU has a rich and fruitful past in regard to student success for Pacific Islanders,” said Tevita Sekeni, Pacific outreach coordinator at SUU. “Not only will this excursion create a paved pathway for our upcoming generations, but it will encourage the beloved SUU motto of ‘learning lives forever.’ Guaranteeing a successful and diversified knowledge for students to take with them on their journeys through life, whether they decide to take the knowledge back home or into other parts of the world.”

Sekeni and International Student Advisor Alex Curtis will be traveling to the main island of American Samoa and visiting all public and private high schools, as well as American Samoa Community College. The team will meet with the department of education and college officials, to reestablish existing relations from previous outreach trips. SUU plans to connect with over a dozen alumni from the University who now have positions with government entities and private sectors.

“I am excited to not only represent SUU, but to be given the chance to represent myself as an advocate of higher learning,” said Sekeni. “To me, the most important thing about Pacific Islander culture is how strong-bonded the Pasifika cultures are. Being a Tongan-American and growing up in a cultural household, the four well-known pillars or the four core values hold a special place in my heart.”

SUU first established its relations with American Samoa under former SUU President Scott L Wyatt. Wyatt, Sekeni, and Dr. Stephen Allen, associate vice president for international affairs, visited the region’s department of education, as well as the community college, in 2015.

"Over the years, SUU has made regular visits to American Samoa to recruit academically talented students who may also be eligible for scholarships," said Dr. Allen. "SUU places a high value on student success and has one of the highest graduation rates in the state of Utah for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island students."

From 2016-2018, SUU offered two study abroad programs to the Pacific regions of the Kingdom of Tonga and the Republic of Fiji. These trips were led by Professor Jonathan Holiman and Dr. Kevin Stein of the Department of Communication. Since the end of those trips, the only excursions to that region of the world have been to New Zealand.

Following the outreach trip, SUU will be offering its first “Pasifika Studies” class through the interdisciplinary studies department, taught by Sekeni. The course opens in Summer 2023.

“My hope for this course is to help students understand more about the Pasifika cultures and create connections of unity,” said Sekeni. “Instead of focusing on our differences, we can connect and focus on the commonality of shared cultures. For students to understand the similarities and differences between the cultures and histories of Pasifika peoples through the study of their languages, religious traditions, artistic accomplishments, material culture and political perspectives.”

"We are excited to offer this important class for all our students who want to learn more about these types of topics,” said Dr. Grant C. Corser, associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at SUU. “Courses like this one help our students understand more about shared and diverse cultures and can create connections of unity."

Currently, SUU has over 173 Pacific Islander students enrolled. The university is also a proud host of the Pacific Islander Student Association (PISA), which hosts their annual Polynesian Showcase. The next showcase will take place in March of 2023 under the direction of Anu Tufuga, advisor for PISA and assistant director of student outreach and support.

Currently, SUU is home to 748 students from 77 countries and territories around the world. By 2025, SUU hopes to host over a thousand international students and have the same amount traveling on study abroad trips. Learn more about the Office of International Affairs at SUU.

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